With many dentists reflecting on their future in the profession, Nigel Jones wonders how the Government is going to provide NHS dental services, particularly to priority groups.

It’s an incredibly sad reflection of the NHS and the pressures that dentists feel under, that the majority don’t see themselves working in the system in 2022.

What’s even sadder is that, of the 70% of respondents to the NHS Confidence Monitor survey who don’t envision being in the NHS in five years’ time, 27% intend to leave the profession altogether.

And that isn’t through the ‘natural wastage’ of retirement, a further 21% said they planned to retire, that is people who have decided that dentistry is no longer the career for them.

The remaining 52% who plan to leave the NHS indicated that they intend to move to private.

NHS dentists unhappy

Looking at the full results of the survey, this desire to leave the NHS is perhaps unsurprising.

The figures show that NHS dentists are unhappy about all the elements of working in the NHS that they were asked about, including remuneration, ability to provide the level of care they would like, work/life balance, and the time they have to manage patient expectations.

Some might say that it would suit the Government’s agenda if more than half of those planning to leave the NHS moved to private, as it would allow NHS dentistry to slowly decline without having to take any firm action.

However, I believe, perhaps less cynically, that this should actually be a major concern for the Government due to the challenges it would present in terms of how they could then adequately service a population with a huge amount of need, particularly the priority groups.


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Young dentists plan to leave NHS

The Confidence Monitor results are also validated by BDA research, which showed that 58% of NHS dentists are planning on turning away from NHS dentistry in the next five years.

The BDA’s results also showed that 53% of young NHS dentists (aged under 35) intend on leaving the NHS, and almost 10% say they will leave the profession entirely, in the same period.

Lately I have met and spoken with several young dentists embarking on their career, and have been impressed by their passion and enthusiasm for helping patients improve their oral health.

It is more than a shame that the NHS, and those who use its service, will not benefit from this.

A wider healthcare issue

This withdrawal from the NHS is not restricted to dentistry either, other areas of healthcare are also experiencing a similar situation.

Just some of the recent media reports revealed that 40% of GPs are planning to leave the NHS, and one in 10 nurses are leaving the NHS in England each year.

These kinds of headlines are just the tip of the ‘crisis-hit NHS’ media coverage iceberg.

The pressures facing the wider NHS have been extensively reported on in the press, and rightly so, but this can only exacerbate dentists’ lack of confidence that current funding levels will be sustained.

When you take all this into account, and add in the ongoing uncertainty about England’s dental contract reform, the result is, unfortunately, a tough future for NHS dentists and little cause for optimism among those who already feel they are struggling.


You can read more blogs and listen to interviews with leading dental professionals here.