Dentists take issue with the dental contract

20 January 2022
1 min read

We recently shared that the number of dentists performing NHS activity in 2020-2021 decreased by 951 on the previous year.

Now, Sarfraz Khan, clinical director for TSJ Smile, a group of dental practices in Barnsley, has shared his struggle with NHS dentistry, revealing that he has failed to attract a single applicant for a number of full-time and part-time NHS dental posts, which have been vacant for about four years. He said that as a rural-based practice, the issue lies with competing with city-based practices.

Sarfraz explained to BBC News, "The workload in a city is less, but you get paid the same amount.

"You might get a young man who needs four fillings and an extraction. You get a band 2 payment for that. In the city for doing one filling, you get a band 2 payment for that. Which one would you choose? Less work, same pay.

"That's one of the issues we've got with the dental contract. For one role I've been advertising for nearly four years, with no one interested, yet I'm paying over the odds.

"If I can't get associates to come in to work, the waiting times are getting longer. Patients are waiting at least four to six weeks, some of whom are in a lot of pain."

Sarfraz is not in a unique position; the shortage of NHS dentists has been widely reported on throughout the pandemic. However, whilst the pandemic has appeared to worsen the recruitment crisis, it is not the root cause of the issue.

The British Dental Association (BDA), along with the charity Healthwatch, have called for the reform of the NHS dental contract – which revolves around units of dental activities (UDAs). Wales moved away from the UDA system in 2021, however it is still in place in England.

The BDA's General Dental Practice Committee chairman Shawn Charlwood wants UDAs scrapped in England.

"NHS dentistry is hanging by a thread," he said.

"Every dentist that is lost or every vacancy for NHS dentists affects thousands of patients.

"Ministers have failed to grasp that we can't have NHS dentistry without NHS dentists."

BBC News shared a statement from an NHS England spokesperson, who “said it had taken ‘unprecedented action’ to support NHS dentists throughout the pandemic including additional funding for practices unable to deliver their usual levels of activity, as well as setting up 600 urgent dental centres across England.”