​A dental professor has voiced concerns about what he sees as a ‘potential wave’ of dental nurse jobs being put at risk within a profession plagued by financial uncertainty.

But elsewhere in the profession, the view is that there is likely to be a shortage of dental nurses in the near future.

Professor Phil Taylor, Dean of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd)’s Faculty of Dental Surgery, has warned that many dental practices may be forced to cut jobs due to current restrictions imposed on them as a result of the pandemic.

This, he says, is particularly relevant due to enforced fallow time limiting the number of patients.

Based on feedback, he says this ‘is anecdotal from speaking with others in the profession and bodies like British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN), which has been liaising with dental nurses throughout the pandemic’. He adds that his concern ‘applies to all four nations and all types of practices’.

However, Neil Carmichael, non-executive chair of the Association of Dental Groups (ADG) is not aware of redundancies, but is planning to raise the issue at an upcoming members meeting.

He said: ‘What I am aware of are recruitment challenges going forward, which I will explore with members. There remains a challenge to recruit dental nurses and the ADG is keen to promote “whole practice working”.

GDC figures

In July 2020, there were 60,829 dental nurses on the GDC register but this month’s numbers are 57,922 dental nurses – a drop off of five per cent.

This is from an all-time high figure of 62,222 registered dental nurses as at 31 July 2019.

However, Professor Taylor believes this may simply be an indication that jobs are already being lost or that dental nurses are feeling under pressure that their job will go and are ‘voting with their feet’.

He added: ‘Many dental nurses have been furloughed during the pandemic and, with the Job Retention Scheme due to finish at the end of the month, we are in real danger of seeing these positions under threat.

‘The tight restrictions on how many patients can be seen in a day has resulted in practices potentially needing fewer staff, and many have had to make tough decisions in order to survive financially. Dental nurses play a vital role in the dental profession and are an essential part of the team. It is of the utmost importance that we ensure they are supported through this period.

‘For those who are returning to work, they need better support from the UK government as well as the NHS as they adjust to new regulations, PPE and AGP procedures.’

Chief Dental Officer for England, Sara Hurley, has said UDA payments are dependent on retaining staff and, indeed, the government introduced the furlough scheme in a bid to save jobs, businesses and the economy.

Meanwhile, dental practices in Wales didn’t close their doors at all during the pandemic.

Professor Taylor said: ‘Wales may be different but it is not just practices closing which has had an impact – the restriction in the number of patients being seen might also make some jobs unprofitable.’

Jacqui Elsden, President of the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN) said: ‘Many dental nurses in NHS and mixed practices have not been paid their full, if any, salaries since March, despite the employing practices having received their NHS funding.

‘Even when they are paid, dental nurses working in NHS practices are not regarded by the NHS as NHS employees – and are therefore denied access to NHS pensions and other benefits; nor are they paid according to NHS scales, but are often only paid minimum wage, despite the fact that they have to pay the GDC ARF, as well as indemnity and CPD costs.

‘This is why BADN have launched a campaign for recognition of dental nurses, their contribution to oral healthcare and their vital role in the dental team. We encourage all dental nurses, and other members of the dental team, to lobby their MPs – a template letter is available on the BADN website.’

ADG's Neil Carmichael added: 'We have indicated our support for the BADN campaign for better recognition of the contribution dental nurses make to dentistry.’