The head of a new quango, set up to advise the government on how many health professionals will be needed in the coming years, has issued a chilling warning about the likely effects of the recession on dental services – and dentists, in particular.
Sir Christopher Edwards, chairman of Medical Education England, which will advise on workforce planning, told Dentistry that the economic downturn meant ‘budgets will be reduced, and harder choices will have to be made’.
He also suggested dentists will have to accept an increasing role for dental therapists, who were cheaper to train and pay, claiming that the principles behind Darwin’s theory of natural selection – under which only the fittest survive – ‘apply to dentistry as they do elsewhere’.
Sir Christopher, who is also the chairman of the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, also went on to predict the current recession would hit both NHS and the private dentistry sector.
He said: ‘It’s going to be very clear to people that if the tax take of Government goes down by half – as some people are saying it will – we simply cannot go on providing public services at the same level we currently do.
‘I think Government will do its best to try to protect vital services, but there will be more and more things that people find it not possible to do.
‘It’s absolutely inevitable people will have to prioritise what’s essential. It will be painful. These things feed through to a local level and budgets will be reduced, and harder choices will have to be made.’
He added: ‘We are going to be in a different world – to ignore that would be stupid. We have got to recognise we have to be cost effective in the way we are delivering dental care.’
Sir Christopher, in comments which suggest he plans to bring a combative approach to his new role, warned dentists that the profession would have to make more room for dental therapists.
He said that therapists ‘can do 40% of what dentists can do’, and ‘If you can provide the same service by therapists more cheaply that’s a route you are going to go down.’
He acknowledged that such views were likely to prove controversial, saying ‘people feel their profession is under threat’, but insisted that the principles behind Darwin’s theory of natural selection ‘apply to dentistry as they do elsewhere’.
Sir Christopher said Medical Education England, which was set up following the junior doctor applications fiasco of 2007, would push for greater ‘flexibility’ in planning for the future number of doctors, dentists, pharmacists and medical scientists in the NHS in England, as well as overseeing their education and training.
He said he expected to receive a preliminary report from the Modernising Dental Careers Programme Board within the next nine months.