Monday, September 7, 1998 Published at 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Dentists call for cash injection
Dentists claim millions are needed to make the profession attractive
Dentists claim an extra £150m a year must be pumped into the profession over the next three years if it is to avoid a recruitment crisis.
The British Dental Assocation has also called for dentists' fees to be increased by at least five per cent.
Extra funding is needed to increase the number of dentists working in the National Health Service and to provide up-to-date equipment, the BDA argues.
In evidence to the review body on doctors' and dentists' pay, the BDA claims that dentists working full time in the NHS have suffered a decrease in real terms of their income of at least £5,000 over the past five years.
The squeeze on pay is the reason that many dentists have left the NHS, the BDA claims, with the result that many people no longer have access to dentistry.
The BDA also claims budget cuts have threatened the viability of the Community Dental Service, which provides care for people with special needs, including children and the elderly. As a consequence, posts have been frozen or unfilled.
Dr Bill Allen, chair of the BDA's council, said: "Dentists do not leave the NHS for ideological reasons.
"They leave because they cannot cover their practice overheads nor spend an adequate amount of time with each patient.
"This has resulted in a shortage of NHS dentists in many areas of the country.
"Sufficient incentives must be provided to retain dentists who are currently working full time in the NHS, as well as attracting back those who have reduced their NHS workload."
Lack of investment
The BDA claims the government's Investing in Dentistry initiative promised a £19m investment in the profession, but in reality only £4.2m has been made available during the last 12 months.
A recent BDA survey found that two in five dentists were concerned about their future.
Approximately 29m people now receive NHS dental care, down from a peak of approximately 31m in 1990. One in four patients are estimated to go private.
Dr Allen estimated that 75% of dentists spent three quarters of their time treating NHS patients. The rest spent a greater proportion of their time on private work.
Previously dentists spent an average of 91% of their time on NHS work.
The move away to the private sector was prompted by a 1992 government decision to cut dentists' fees by approximately seven per cent to prevent budgets being overspent.
Dr Allen said: "The recruitment situation is getting critical and something must be done to encourage people to stay in the NHS.
"The comprehensive spending review promised an extra £21bn for the NHS, and some of that should come to dentistry. It is right that dentistry is a properly integrated part of the NHS."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the government would submit evidence to the Review Body, and act on its recommendations when it reported in the spring.