NHS dentistry: a profession with a future?

SpeechDentistry.co.uk catches up with four industry professionals to hear their views on the latest NHS Confidence Monitor.

The publication of the most recent NHS Confidence Monitor survey results has revealed that morale amongst dental professionals remains low. The NHS Confidence Monitor is a comprehensive survey commissioned by Practice Plan, which is carried out every six months to track the profession’s confidence levels in the future of NHS dentistry.

This survey, the third in the series, was for the first time opened up to the whole profession and gained just under 600 responses. Dentistry caught up with four industry professionals to find out their views of the latest results.

Dentistry.co.uk: What are your views on the results of the third NHS Confidence Monitor survey?

Claire Roberts (CR): The latest results are another damning indication of the low levels of morale for those working within the dental profession. Compared with 12 months ago, virtually all the respondents feel worse off and confidence in the NHS is reduced in all sections of this survey. There seems to be no improvement – present or future – in remuneration, regulation, red tape or prospects within the NHS.

Alun Rees (AR): These results reflect my own experiences about the condition of NHS dentistry in the UK. Like Claire says, morale is poor across the board, especially in practices that are dependent upon the NHS for their livelihood. We are used to seeing downbeat opinions from dentists; these results show dental team members feel the same.

Dentistry.co.uk: Seventy per cent of survey respondents indicated that they would not recommend dentistry as a career to a friend or family member. Why do you think this is the case?

Sheila Scott (SS): This is a really damning statistic. What happened to the profession that people used to look up to and admire, and aspire to?

Even more tellingly, half of all practice managers – who by definition earn so much less than their dentist colleagues – will not be recommending dentistry to their children. These managers see the pressures dentists are under, and they obviously don’t think the pressure is ‘worth it’.

AR: The fact that less than a third of those asked would recommend dentistry as a career to a friend or family member saddens me and is a savage indictment of the way the profession has been treated by successive governments.

Jane LeLean (JL): I don’t think that dentists would recommend their career because most of them are tired, overwhelmed, feel that they can’t offer the most appropriate care to patients, are fearful of litigation, work long hours, are doing difficult work and are under-remunerated. Would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely; I am in the 30% that thinks that dentistry is the most amazing profession that gives you the opportunity to serve your patients and live an interesting varied life, but clearly most wouldn’t.

Dentistry.co.uk: The results revealed that the average planned retirement age for dentists is 61. What are your views on this?

CR: The results do not indicate what proportion of respondents are unaffected by the changes to our pensionable age.

Those who are unaffected will most likely retire at or before 60, and the new reduced lifetime allowance will encourage them to go sooner. For the rest of us, it seems to indicate that we do not want to work to (in my case 67 and I’m 51) our state pension age. I can only assume that most of us are making other plans, be it private pension or savings schemes, or simply do not intend to continue in the profession at that point, preferring to do something else.

To view the full results and read further comments from industry professionals, go to www.nhsdentistryinsights.co.uk.

Sheila Scott has over 20 years’ experience in dental business coaching and is one of dentistry’s most sought-after speakers.

Alun Rees is an experienced dentist and qualified coach who has been coaching dentists and dental teams since 2005.

Jane LeLean is an international dental business coach, trainer and speaker.

Claire Roberts has been working in dentistry since she qualified in 1988. She is now the owner and practising dentist of a mixed practice.


  1. 1

    The fact of the matter is that our profession is considered as an afterthought by both politicians and the public. I work with new graduates and the fear of litigation means that dentists practise defensive dentistry. It will get worse before it gets better. I’m graduated in 1987 and I would 100% not recommend my profession to anyone!!

  2. 2

    The only thing I find surprising is the fact that ANY UK dentist would now recommend dentistry as a career to a family member. Years of being demeaned by politicians of all shades, over-regulated to the point of farce, with vindictive buffoons like the GDC actually touting for complaints in the national press – at registrants expense.
    I would add here that I don’t even work for the ludicrous Nectar-point ‘system’ AKA UDA’s. Even so, small practice owners are getting more and more nauseous red-tape, the latest being auto-enrollment pensions. Roll on retirement!

  3. 3

    UK Dentists don’t have to work in the UK. It is a mistake to think that UK professional status, working conditions and respect for the profession, are mirrored in other countries.

    Dental Surgeons have valuable skills, which are hard come by, and take years to acquire. Experience, following qualification, is of paramount importance, and if we work in a restrictive environment with a regulator that is not fit for purpose, and which is currently investigating 17% of Dental Practitioners, the solution is obvious.

    The prime advantage of moving abroad is primarily related to improved quality of life and improved self development. You ARE able to practice what skills are acquired. Best practice IS a reality. Dental Surgeons ARE in the driving seat and RUN the profession. You DON’T have to be affected by negative politics. This IS how it should be.

    Dentist/Patient relationship is very different. Your efforts ARE appreciated by patients from all walks of life and the opportunity exists to provide real personal care. I had been working in an abusive British system for so many years I had forgotten what it was like to be treated with any modicum of respect. My ex-pat colleagues all felt the same way – without exception.

    We were not relentlessly exposed to the rhetoric of meaningless regulatory gobbledegook and the regulation of the professions are based on common sense and peer review.

    Colleagues were supportive helpful and highly skilled. Standard of living is higher than in the UK and stress is not a factor that is usually considered. Healthcare services are much better organised than in the UK and generally clinicians are welcomed from the UK.

    So would I advise youngsters to read dentistry? Absolutely. It has just about everything. It is scientific, artistic, innovative and valued. And I would suggest an adventure of studying abroad. There are many Schools with courses taught in English that are recognised in the EU and USA etc – at a fraction of the cost of study in the UK. What a fantastic adventure it would be for a youngster.

    Free Market Healthcare is currently being globalised. NHS Contracts are being negotiated in the EU. South Kent has negotiated contracts for care in France and 20 CCGs are currently negotiating contracts in India where excellent care is available for about 25% of the cost in the UK’s NHS. It is only a matter of time until dentistry follows suit. This background brings new meaning to the intransigence of government whose plans may be thwarted if the NHS manages to be a success.

    Our workforce needs to understand what is happening and adapt to survive. A UK Dentist could have a wonderful clinical career working abroad and may often treat British Patients either as ex-pats or as patients on “Plaquage Holidays”. The way things are going they may even be contracted to treat NHS patients. Make no mistake about it. We are witnessing a paradigm shift in care. Free Market Healthcare is no different to steel coal engineering shipbuilding and manufacturing

    So maybe we shouldn’t knock the Profession of Dentistry but direct criticism where it is deserved. Our UK System is in a State of Collapse, UK Dentistry is in a state of anarchy, and we only have ourselves to blame for permitting this to happen.

    Defensive Dentistry does not necessarily equate with the highest quality; CPD Professional Development etc etc

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