The future of NHS dentistry hangs in the balance as figures suggest a growing trend towards privatisation. Many fear this to be the final nail in the coffin for NHS dental care.
Recent findings from FMC’s Dentistry Census in 2022 reveal that nearly three-quarters of dentists are contemplating a transition away from NHS dentistry within the next two years. This inclination arises from various challenges tied to what many deem an impractical contract. The British Dental Association (BDA) argues that the current NHS dental contract, in place since 2006, prioritises government contracts at the expense of patient needs. Over the years, this contract set unpractical incentives, such as awarding dentists the same remuneration for a single filling as for 10. It’s for reasons like these that the Health Select Committee deemed the contract "unfit for purpose".
Eddie Crouch, Chairman of the BDA, called for “real commitment; root-and-branch reform and adequate funding.” And unless the government swiftly commits to this, dentists seem poised to continue their exodus from the NHS, and the prevalence of "dental deserts" will persist.
Given that most dentists oversee approximately 2,000 patients, the dwindling workforce has left an estimated four million individuals without access to NHS care. The NHS presently grapples with the lowest number of dentists in a decade, according to the Association of Dental Groups (ADG), representing major dental surgery chains.
Many people are finding themselves compelled to seek private care after futile attempts to secure an NHS dentist for their needs. Some have contacted countless surgeries in their local vicinity in vain attempts to register as an NHS patient or have had to travel beyond their locality for care. A mounting number of dental practices are undertaking minimal or no NHS-funded work, citing issues with the dental contract.
The ADG suggests that a combination of Covid, Brexit, and government underfunding of NHS dental services has led to a "critical" situation which is likely to get worse before we see an improvement.
The importance of offering dental employee benefits
The transition towards privatisation carries substantial implications for dental employee benefits. With more dentists veering towards private practice, there may be shifts in the nature and extent of benefits extended to employees.
However, privatisation doesn't necessarily mean a reduction in employee benefits. In fact, some employers may opt to enhance their benefits packages – a move strongly recommended if they aim to attract and retain top talent.
While dental benefits traditionally haven't been a primary consideration for employees when contemplating joining a new company, this could change when access to NHS dentists undergoes a significant limitation.
The advantages of prioritising dental care
1. Reduced absenteeism
Recent research from Denplan, the UK's leading dental plan provider, reveals that nearly three-in-10 Brits have had to take time off work due to severe tooth pain. Approximately seven per cent of respondents admitted to taking more than a week off work due to dental pain, with 21% reporting at least one day of sick leave.
Collectively, these figures translate to a staggering 23 million working days lost to dental pain, or the equivalent of 93,000 full-time jobs. Consequently, granting employees access to private dental care is not just important to the employees, but organisations can reduce sickness levels and increase company productivity.
2. Alleviating financial strain on employees
As living costs surge, many individuals grapple to afford dental care. When NHS dental care becomes challenging to access, individuals often feel pressured to seek private care, which isn't a viable option for many. Even NHS charges can pose a financial hurdle for some. By offering dental insurance as a benefit, employers can help ease these financial burdens for their employees.
3. Promoting employee health and wellbeing
Regular dental check-ups play a crucial role in maintaining optimal oral health, which in turn is integral to overall wellbeing. These check-ups can identify potential issues early on, minimising the need for extensive remedial treatments. Extending robust dental benefits will incentivise more employees to schedule check-ups, free from the worry of excessive bills.
As the dental industry continues its transition towards privatisation, the significance of dental employee benefits is more pronounced than ever, serving to attract and retain employees and also contribute to their overall health and wellbeing. Therefore, it is imperative for employers to thoroughly consider their benefits packages in this evolving landscape.
If you are looking for a talented employee to join your team, get in touch with one of our specialist consultants today.