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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 June, 2005, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Fear over NHS dentistry's future
The survey suggests the future of NHS dentistry could be in jeopardy
Experts have warned NHS dentistry could be in jeopardy following the results of a survey of would-be dentists.

The Dundee University study found 3% of dental school applicants in the late 1990s planning to work in general practice would undertake only NHS work.

Researchers now fear for the future of NHS services because those who took part are due to qualify this year.

The British Dental Association (BDA) agreed and said the study represented industry feelings on NHS cases.

The research came from questionnaires completed by 464 dental undergraduates at Dundee and Manchester universities when attending their interviews in 1998 and 1999.

Unless steps are taken, the provision of NHS dental services in the UK could be jeopardised in the future
Dr Fiona Stewart
Dundee University

Many of those interviewed are set to embark on their professional careers this year and their feelings will directly affect public access to NHS dentistry.

The study found 65% planned to move into general practice on qualification, 15% planned to go into hospital services with the remainder either undecided or heading for community or military services.

Of the majority, the academics found 90% expressed a wish to work in mixed public/private surgeries, 7% planned to stick to solely private practice with the rest concentrating on NHS work.

The study's principal investigator Dr Fiona Stewart said: "The findings emphasise the urgent need to address issues regarding workforce planning in the profession.

"Unless steps are taken, the provision of NHS dental services in the UK could be jeopardised in the future."

Access problems

Dr Stewart added that almost 90% of women and 70% of men anticipated taking time out from work before their children started school, which would further exacerbate problems of access to NHS services.

The BDA agreed with the survey's findings and conclusions.

The chairman of the association's Scottish Dental Practice Committee, which represents all general practitioners across Scotland, Robert Donald said: "I think the findings reflect what is happening within general practice in Scotland.

"It's very frightening that only 3% plan to go and work within the NHS but it is tempered by the fact that only 7% wanted to go and work in private practice.

"The majority of dentists work in mixed practices and they are finding that it is hard to make a practice work financially without taking on private work because it subsidises the NHS income."

This is further evidence that working in the NHS is not an attractive proposition for dentists
Shona Robison

He claimed the only real way to turn dentists back towards taking on publicly-funded work was for the Scottish Executive to triple its funding for NHS dentistry.

"The executive set the fees for NHS work and at present they are far too low," added Mr Donald. "This means that dentists have to see between 40 and 50 patients a day to meet the costs of running their practices.

"If it doesn't sort this problem out soon the government is going to have major problems with access to NHS services in the future."

The Scottish National Party claimed the survey results were "devastating" for NHS dentistry.

Health spokeswoman Shona Robison said: "This is further evidence that working in the NHS is not an attractive proposition for dentists.

"We must work harder to make the NHS more attractive to prospective dentists by increasing financial incentives available for those working in the public sector, before the NHS dental services plunge deeper into crisis."

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