Liberal Democrats warn Wales faces ‘dentist shortage time bomb’
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have warned of a “dentist shortage time bomb” with over 14% of dentists in Wales approaching retirement age, and says the situation will hit some rural areas particularly hard.
Between 2019-20 and 2020-21, the number NHS dentists in Wales fell by over 5% with 83 fewer NHS dentists on the books.
A survey published in April also recorded high levels of stress among dentists, with over 70% of those questioned saying they were considering their career options.
The study conducted by the British Dental Association Wales revealed that nearly two thirds of dentists said they are considering taking early retirement and 82% said they planned to reduce the hours they work for the NHS over the next three years.
Dentists are also complaining of stress and burnout as they work to clear the backlog of patients caused by the Covid lockdown.
A report compiled by Welsh Party leader Jane Dodds on access to dentistry in Mid & West Wales found that people were living in pain or unable to eat properly, because they could not find treatment – and that the poorest were suffering most as they were least able to afford to pay for private dentistry.
Areas identified by the Welsh Lib Dems “at the greatest risk of an exodus” include Powys, where 20% of dentists are coming up to retirement age and Hywel Dda Health Board which serves Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire where 21% of dentists face retirement soon.
Jane Dodds said: “Our NHS dental system is at a breaking point; it really is a scandal. Access to NHS dentists is already a postcode lottery and with 14% of dentists facing retirement soon the problem only looks set to get worse
“The Welsh Government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to the crisis in NHS dentistry. To be clear, this crisis is not the fault of dentists. They work extremely hard and have to operate within the system that exists. But that system is broken and only the Government can fix it.
“Clearly, the Government needs to step up and review the system which drives dentists away from performing NHS activity. The lack of NHS dentists across the country is a real crisis for people. As well as being unable to sort out dental pain in the short term, people are storing up problems for the future without regular check-ups.
“To help reduce current pressures while more dentists are trained, I would urge the Welsh Government to consider increasing the availability of dental therapists and nurses, as well as considering introducing travelling NHS dentists who can rotate through areas of concerns to help clear backlogs.”
In March the British Dental Association Wales called for an increase in funding from the Welsh Government amid accusations of “historic underfunding” compared to the rest of the UK.
Welsh Conservatives also urged the government to introduce a fair funding settlement for NHS dentistry in Wales and claimed that due to chronic underfunding accessing NHS dental treatment is becoming impossible and “waiting lists are exploding”.
Despite an additional £3 million of funding this financial year to provide additional appointments and the offer of a £2 million annual uplift in future, the BDA says few practices have been able to make use of the scheme given the huge increase in demand fuelled by most non-emergency treatments being halted for several months during the Covid pandemic.
Responding to the claims of underfunding, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have provided an extra £3m this year alone for NHS dental services, and an extra £2m a year, each year, to increase people’s access to NHS dental services after a difficult two years.”
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