The President of the College, Dr Abhi Pal, has told a committee of MPs that it will take more than contract reform to persuade more dental professionals to deliver NHS dental treatment.

Dr Pal, a general dental practitioner and Principal of an NHS-contracted dental practice in Edgbaston, was addressing the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee during an oral evidence session on NHS dentistry in England. During a discussion focussed on the attractiveness of NHS dentistry to dentists, he said:

“I’ve heard the evidence earlier on, and first of all I have to concur with colleagues about the state of the contract and dental contract reform, which is sorely required. But it’s not just a question of contract reform – whilst that’s very important – it’s also a question of making dental professionals’ careers more fulfilling and providing some degree of recognition for what they’re doing.

“Everyone goes into dentistry to provide the best care they can, and it’s worthwhile pointing out that beyond Dental Core Training, which is some two years post qualification, there is no effective career pathway or structure for dentists to follow, and there is a large void left there.

“There’s also little recognition from the NHS for dentists who have sometimes invested significant quantities of money in order to enhance their skills. If working conditions in that sense, and recognition, could be made better, the NHS would be seen as a more attractive place – particularly for younger dentists, and international dentists – to come and work.”

He later added:

“We speak to a lot of early career dentists – dentists within the first three or four years of qualifying – and invariably they say a number of things. One is that they are a little bit lost as to which direction they should go. And they see less future within the health service – we’ve talked about all the reasons that there are before, and they can’t work to the best way that their training has allowed them to work. I think there are small changes, including contract reform, in terms of supporting professional development, that the NHS could be considering.”

He said that in order to retain dental professionals within the NHS workforce, consideration should be given to supporting their training and development, and to supporting the development of more professional networks, peer review opportunities and mentoring schemes. He summarised that:

“All of these things, put together, in addition to contract reform, would go some way in making the NHS more attractive than it is now.”

The College recently opened a Certified Membership programme built around its freely available Professional Framework for Career Pathways in Dentistry, and speaking during the same evidence session, the Chair of Health Education England’s Dental Education Reform Programme informed committee members that HEE was already working with the College to look at how the NHS might recognise the career progression of dental professionals working in primary care.

Written evidence previously submitted by the Faculty of General Dental Practice – which transferred into the College in 2021 – told the committee that the current NHS dental contract in England is “ill-conceived and not fit for purpose”, “crude and ineffective”, and that many patients struggle to access NHS dental care as “the funding simply does not provide the universal offer they expect”.

Last year, Dr Pal visited No.10 Downing Street for a discussion on access to careers and progression in dentistry, and he has also discussed these issues with the Shadow Health Secretary.

The Health Committee’s evidence session on NHS dentistry can be viewed in full here

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