Proposal for dental school in Dorset

02 November 2023

Councillors in Dorset are considering financing a dental school in an effort to recruit more dentists to the area.

Robert Payne, deputy director for strategic health commissioning NHS Dorset, told the Dorset Council People and Health committee that the lack of dentists in the area is a result of government underfunding and a “grossly unfair” contract.

According to the Dorset Echo, “around £39m a year is paid for NHS dental contracts” in the county.

Robert told the committee that local commissioners “were keen to avoid simply buying dental ‘units’ – and wanted to offer targeted gains across the population, as did many dentists.” He also cited research which suggests that “generally healthy people” could allow 12 to 18 months between appointments.

Reflecting on conversations with local clinicians, Robert said that many were keen to help improve the service for the public. At a recent meeting, he explained he had witnessed distress from dentists who wanted to meet patient demand but struggled to do so.

 Jon Orrell, a Weymouth councillor and a GP, said that he had spoken with local dentists, which suggested a “reluctance to move to private practice”. Jon added that something “radical” needs to be done to rectify the situation. He asked the committee If it would be possible to develop a contract specific to Dorset or subsidise housing to encourage clinicians to work in the county.

The meeting heard “50 per cent of dental professionals in England lived within the M25 corridor.” Paul Kimber, a councillor for Portland, responded to the statistic by saying, “We do need a dental school in Dorset. We do need the Government to help up – it’s an awful statistic about the M25. You can’t just desert communities like us, but I can understand the frustration and why dentists pack up and move on.”

Paul acknowledged that the discussion on creating a dental school had only just begun. However, he pointed out that many training places are quite far from the country, so having a local facility “might encourage dentists to train and then settle” in the area.

Robin Cooke, a councillor for East Dorset, suggested that people who can afford private dentistry should, perhaps, do so to create spaces. He argued that “giving up an NHS space” may help to solve the backlog of patients waiting for treatment.