A survey of dental school applicants led by researchers at the University of Dundee has found that only 3% of those intending to enter general dental practice expected to work exclusively within the NHS.
Researchers concluded that the problems of accessibility to NHS dental services will be exacerbated if fewer dentists choose to provide NHS care.
The study - to be published in full in the next issue of the British Dental Journal - also anticipates that in future the dental profession would be severely affected if both men and women took time out of their careers, as many indicated in the survey they anticipated doing.
The survey was carried out to measure applicants’ career intentions and the balance with family life. Four-hundred-and-sixty-four anonymous questionnaires were distributed to applicants to the dental undergraduate classes at Dundee and Manchester when they attended for interview in the spring of 1998 and 1999. Many of these prospective students may be about to now finish, or have recently finished, their studies and be embarking on professional careers.
The survey was carried out by principal investigator Dr Fiona Stewart and Dr John Drummond, both at the University of Dundee, Dr Lloyd Carson at the University of Abertay, Dundee, and Dr Gillian Hoad Reddick at the University of Manchester.
“The findings emphasise the urgent need to address issues regarding workforce planning in the profession,” said Fiona Stewart. “Unless steps are taken, the provision of NHS dental services in the UK could be jeopardised in the future.”
The survey found that 65% of applicants wished to enter general dental practice, 15% intended to go to the hospital dental service, with the remainder split between community dental services, armed forces, and those who at that stage remained undecided.
Of the 65% looking to enter general dental practice, 90% of them expressed a wish to work in a mixed NHS/private practice, with 3% wanting to work exclusively in the NHS and 7.5% in private practice.
The survey charts markedly changing trends. A previous study showed 60% of women working exclusively within the NHS, whereas less than 1% of the female respondents in the current survey anticipated working in this way. The same previous study showed 46% of women being equity holding principals, while the new study found that of those intending entering general practice 87% of both men and women intended to buy a partnership after a few years working as an associate.
Researchers say this may reflect the fact that the applicants had detected problems within NHS dentistry either through the media or, more likely, through contact with general dental practitioners during work shadowing.
The survey also found that almost 90% of women and 70% of men would anticipate taking varying lengths of time out from work before their children started school. 90% of both men and women thought childcare ought to be equally shared between both parents.