Dentistry in Scotland ‘at risk’ as dental schools face uncertain future
The British Dental Association (BDA) has urged the Scottish Government to provide a “clear safety net to protect students, universities and the future of patient care”, as questions emerge of whether Scotland’s dental schools will graduate classes this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the clinical experience of many dental undergraduates.
In an open letter to Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman, and Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney the BDA has warned action is needed to minimise wide-ranging impacts on the future of education, training and the sustainability of the NHS workforce.
The union has warned against “saddling undergraduates with unmanageable debt”. Scottish dental students can already expect to graduate with more than £34,000 debt. An additional year of study could push it to more than £40,000.
Dentist leaders have stressed that any changes will have an impact not just on this year’s graduating class, but on the shape and size of the 2021 intake.
The BDA is calling on the Scottish Government to support any undergraduates who are required to take additional periods of study via an emergency bursary, to offer appropriate support for dental schools covering tuition fees where appropriate, teaching grant and clinical placement funding, and ongoing support for the network of NHS trainers who take on trainees following graduation.
Any disruption will have a significant impact on patient access, said the BDA. Graduate dentists are typically given higher needs patients to maximise their clinical experience during their vocational training. Longer-term, this disruption may also translate into fewer qualified dentists entering the NHS workforce in years to come. The BDA said inaction will make the huge backlog facing Scotland’s dental services even more difficult to clear.
David McColl, Chair, British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, said: “What dental students across Scotland really need now is certainty. The Scottish Government must offer a safety net, which protects the next generation, supports our universities, and secures the future of patient care.
“Should these students be unable to graduate in 2021 it will have a serious impact on both the workforce and patients’ ability to access NHS services.
“The pipeline of health professionals should not be left at risk. We need to see a plan that guarantees graduates aren’t saddled with unmanageable debt, keeps schools viable, and ensures Scotland has the dentists it needs.”