The ability to deliver postgraduate medical and dental education safely and effectively could be seriously undermined if proposed cuts in education services are implemented, dental and medical leaders have warned.
In a joint response to a consultation on cost-cutting measures by Health Education England (HEE), the British Dental Association (BDA) and British Medical Association (BMA) have expressed alarm that the subsequent loss in capacity and expertise to deliver specialist training and other educational activities could far outweigh any savings made.
Dental and medical leaders also question whether the proposed cuts in staff numbers have taken sufficient account of existing staff shortages due to absences or unfilled vacancies, because failure to do so would mean that a service that is already stretched could reach breaking point.
The BDA and BMA query the wisdom behind proposals to change the balance between clinical and non-clinical staff which, they argue, could jeopardise specialist training programmes. In particular, the unions warn that cuts to admin and support staff with knowledge of different specialities in favour of pooling general admin resources, could make it difficult to deliver an effective service.
Even more worryingly, the BDA and BMA question whether all the dentists and doctors affected by HEE's proposed changes have actually been consulted, given the temporary and part-time nature of many of their teaching roles, and the ongoing confusion arising from the way HEE was formed following the implementation of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.
The two unions are also calling for a clear commitment from HEE that these employees will be treated fairly and consistently in any future voluntary redundancy scheme, given that these groups were excluded from an earlier scheme on grounds of being 'too costly' to include.
Alison Lockyer, Chair of the BDA's Education, Ethics and the Dental Team Working Group, said:
"While HEE may be caught between a rock and hard place in terms of government-imposed cuts to their budget, doctors and dentists are united in their concerns over proposals that could seriously undermine the training of our much-needed specialists.
"This not only raises serious issues for those who are directly affected, but it's likely to put others off from pursuing a career in dental specialities in the future.
"As it is, the situation is a sorry mess when some dentists and doctors who work for HEE haven't even been provided with an employment contract.
"And an even bigger issue for society is how will the proposed cuts improve patient safety or developments and innovations in dentistry? Where is the evidence that HEE has factored in how the proposed cuts will impact on patient care?"