Rishi says dentists will have to work for the NHS… But furious health boss dubs the PM’s plan an ‘exercise in futility’
- New dentists will be tied into the NHS rather than lost to a private practice
New dentists will be forced to devote years to the NHS to help tackle staff shortages.
Under plans unveiled by Rishi Sunak they will be tied into the NHS rather than lost to private practice. The Prime Minister said it was unacceptable that two in three left the health service straight after qualifying.
He said it was ‘reasonable’ to require them to spend some time in the NHS after benefiting from training that amounted to ‘a very significant subsidy from the taxpayer worth hundreds of thousands of pounds’.
Coupled with an increase in training places, the move should boost the number of dentists offering NHS services and help to resolve chronic shortages that have left many families unable to get treatment.
But the British Dental Association reacted furiously to the idea. Its chairman Eddie Crouch urged the Government to make NHS work more attractive rather than simply order dentists around.
Under plans unveiled by Rishi Sunak, new dentists will be tied into the NHS rather than lost to private practice
‘Ministers need to make the NHS a place young dentists would choose to work, not handcuff the next generation to a sinking ship,’ he said. ‘Seeing the detail, nothing changes our view that government is trying in vain to fill a leaky bucket. It’s an exercise in futility training more dentists who don’t want to work in the NHS.’
Rishi’s remedy: The plan
DOCTORS: The NHS has pledged to double the number of medical school places to 15,000 a year by 2031.
NURSES: Doubling the number of adult nurse training places by 2013, with a planned 170,000 extra by 2036/37.
DENTISTS: Training numbers to rise by 40 per cent to more than 1,100 places by 2031/32.
MIDWIVES: Ongoing investments to boost training places.
PHARMACISTS: Target to increase training places by nearly 50 per cent to around 5,000 by 2031/32.
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES: Approved clinician roles across mental health services will rise by at least 1,000 between 2022/23 and 2036/37.
RECRUITMENT: Medical degrees could be slashed from five years to four.
RETENTION: Better opportunities for career development, improved flexible working and pensions reforms to keep 130,000 employees working in the service for longer.
The move to get a grip on the dentistry crisis came as:
- The NHS published a ‘Long Term Workforce Plan’, which set out proposals to double medical training places;
- Mr Sunak warned he would not take the ‘easy course’ of hiking pay to doctors despite fears industrial action will hit patient care and push up waiting lists;
- Ministers predicted that the push for domestic training and recruitment would slash the proportion of foreign workers in the NHS from 25 per cent to 10 per cent;
- The PM hinted that the scale of the NHS plan could mean cuts elsewhere;
- NHS England chief Amanda Pritchard warned the plan was not a ‘magic wand’;
- Medical leaders said they might need more cash for technology and equipment to meet productivity targets.
An exodus of dentists from the NHS has left provision in crisis in some areas, with desperate patients even resorting to pulling out their own teeth.
In the South West only 5 per cent of NHS dental practices are still taking on new child patients. Yesterday’s workforce plan calls for 40 per cent more dentists to be trained over the next decade. Courses for dental hygienists and nurses will also be expanded.
The plan also seeks ‘better value for the significant investment that the taxpayer makes in the education and training of the dental workforce’. It said dentists would be ‘supported and encouraged’ to devote more time to NHS patients. Bureaucracy will be slashed.
But the blueprint suggested a ‘tie-in’ period may be required to ensure that ‘dentists spend a minimum proportion of their time delivering NHS care in the years following graduation’.
Sources said Health Secretary Steve Barclay would examine whether they should be required to spend a number of hours each week or carry out a minimum number of NHS stints. These could last for five or even ten years, but would not bar dentists from doing private work on the side. It is not expected to affect existing dentists, even if they have shunned the NHS for their entire careers after qualifying. The final details will be subject to consultation.
The Prime Minister said it was unacceptable that two in three dentists left the health service straight after qualifying
Sources said Health Secretary Steve Barclay (pictured) would examine whether they should be required to spend a number of hours each week or carry out a minimum number of NHS stints
But the BDA said it would not be enough to halt the exodus from NHS work and warned against trying to recruit more foreign dentists to fill the gaps.
The union described the NHS contract as ‘broken’. It said its surveys showed that half of all respondents had cut their NHS commitments since the pandemic.
Mr Barclay is understood to have looked at the case for imposing a tie-in period for doctors to require them to work for the NHS for a minimum period.
Mr Sunak said he was willing to introduce the plan if the number of junior doctors choosing a life abroad increased. But he said that evidence of large numbers of doctors relocating to Australia and other countries was only anecdotal.
‘The data shows it is not as widespread a problem as people assume,’ he said.
‘But if we think there is an issue there we are prepared to take action.’