Warning over cuts to dental school student numbers
Reports by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI) and Health Education England (HEE) have suggested that the number of undergraduate dental student places at universities ought to be cut.
According to the two organisations, the UK faces a significant oversupply of dentists in the coming years. Indeed, if no action is taken, it is thought there will a surplus of somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000 dentists by 2040.
In the report, the bodies pointed to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre that revealed there were some 22,920 dentists providing primary care NHS dental services in 2011-12 - a figure it claims is a "gradual but steady increase" from 2006-07. Reference to a survey of 18 dental schools conducted by the Dental Schools Council was also made in the report, indicating that the number of clinical academic dentists in the UK has risen by a total of 3.5 per cent in the past two years.
Such reports, however, come on the back of a dental workforce review published back in 2004 that suggested there would be a practitioner shortfall of somewhere between 3,640 and 5,100 by 2011 if drastic steps were not taken. While this resulted in a number of new postgraduate-entry institutions and increased student numbers at several dental schools, the action that was taken now appears to have been too successful.
Consequently, CfWI and HEE have proposed that "intervention is recommended" in order to balance the supply and demand of dental professionals.
Reducing the number of student places, it is claimed, will maximise the effectiveness of the education and training opportunities that are available. In addition, the bodies suggest that it would go some way towards reducing the likelihood of underemployment in the sector and reduce "unnecessary public expenditure that may accompany oversupply in the workforce".
Responding to the HEE and CfWI reports, the British Dental Association (BDA) cautioned over any potential reduction to student numbers.
Dr Judith Husband, chair of the BDA's Ethics, Education and the Dental Team Working Group, adds that any conclusions taken from the studies ought to "be carefully considered" and any decision on changing student numbers that is made should be both "pragmatic" and "sensible".
"Balancing the responsibilities to the young people who strive for careers in dental care, taxpayers and patients should be central to any decisions," she states, adding that "the impact of any changes for all dental team numbers are monitored regularly and rigorously".
She notes that a "fair deal" for UK dentistry is needed next year. Suggesting that general dental practice is "coming under increasingly unbearable pressure", the body claimed that a combination of demands for efficiency savings and insufficient increases in funding in England have put the sector in a difficult position.
The organisation also pointed to problems within dental academia, noting that falls in the number of posts that include an element of research are threatening "the high quality of the UK's dental research".