Michael Watson discusses the latest figures showing how dentists’ earnings have dropped.
The headline figures on dental earnings (for 2013/14) released last week were that net incomes for practice owners in England and Wales had fallen by 21% in real terms since 2008 – from £145,800 to £115,200 – with associates experiencing a 19.6% drop, from £75,400 to £60,600.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland similar drops were experienced: 27% fall in associates’ incomes over the past five years and a 22% fall for principals.
GPs are doing no better, as figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), at the same time as those for dentists, show.
The average GP practice principal had a net income before tax of £96,000 (down 1.4% since the previous year) and salaried GPs (the equivalent of our associates) fell 3.3% to £54,600.
Time for some investment
Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee (GDPC) said: ‘Dentists keep being asked to do more with less.
‘It’s time we saw some real investment in oral health.’
Peter Crooks, chair of the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee, summed up the reason for this drop in earnings, which he said was ‘eight years of sustained cuts,’ that ‘were making it harder for practitioners to deliver the service our patients deserve.’
Despite this strong stance by the British Dental Association (BDA), which will be reflected in its evidence to the Review Body, I am afraid the situation will get worse over the next five years.
The only way in which both the coalition Government and the present one have maintained any financial control over the NHS, at a time of rising demand, is through pay restraint across the whole service.
In his budget this summer the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that public sector workers, including those in the NHS, faced another four-year pay freeze.
Back in the pre-2006 days there was a relationship between level of fees, practice expenses, output of work and dentists net income.
Even when, as happened in 1992, fees were cut dentists were able to maintain their incomes by increasing their output, ie doing more work.
With the introduction of a capped contract value in 2006, dentists have been unable to work their way out of a pay cut; do more than your contracted number of UDAs and you are working for free.
The only way to maintain net income in real terms, under this contract, is to reduce expenses.
This is difficult if not impossible for associates and dentists working on their own.
The only people who can do this are those with associates or who can get some of the work done by dental care professionals.
Is it any wonder then that the penetration of the dental market by corporates is increasing?