Sarah Vine, writing in the Daily Mail, echoed the paper’s headline on “Greedy dentists fleece families”, by calling NHS dentistry “little more than a cruel con”. She went on: “It’s not just the waiting times, the sharp practices, the poor standards of care…”
This damaging perception of the profession is certainly unwelcome, but another report in the Daily Record falls far closer to the mark on the current state of NHS dentistry.
Their report highlights that NHS dentists have experienced cuts of up to £17,000 a year since 2009 and the increases stresses and strains from the GDC. It predicts that many will leave the profession due to these pressures if solutions cannot be found to improve the current system.
Robert Donald, a dentist from Nairn, commented on the controversial NHS payment system: “It is leading to death by a thousand cuts. There is growing evidence that stress levels are getting worse. There is a dental health support programme, set up to help dentists who get into difficulty with alcohol, drugs or mental health issues.
“There has been an increase in numbers of referrals in the last few years as well as anecdotal evidence about dentists being more stressed. If stress levels rise to the point where it affects the way you live and work, it can have serious consequences, including suicide or an early death due to stress-related illnesses.”
And the cause of this stress? Robert went on: “There are a load of issues. Dentists are health care professionals but also run a business. In the last few years, there has been quite a large pay cut. The latest figures show the average wage is now £86,000. Compare that to some doctors who earn well over £100,000 now. In Scotland, we are the lowest paid dental practitioners in the whole of the UK.
“Dentists are going to get into trouble for the slightest thing. If a patient complains, it quite quickly escalates. Dentists are worried that anybody could come up with some spurious complaint which could go all the way to a hearing at the GDC in London.”
If the current system limits the amount of people dentists can see on the NHS, where then will the profession be if the stresses and strains force many to leave? Robert predicts that “access to dental care could be a problem in the next 10 years.”
Another senior dentist commented: “I have never known morale to be as low. There are dentists of all ages wanting out of the profession because of the stresses.”
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jenny Marra said: “We know there are people struggling to get a dentist. This will only get worse if businesses close.”