NHS England’s activity target silence ‘speaks volumes’

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Zoe Close looks at the latest government announcement on the increased NHS activity targets, and the impact it will have after it arrived just hours before the new contracts were due to start.

Until the evening of 30 September, NHS dentists were in a position where they had absolutely zero control over what their immediate future was going to be.

They were preparing to go to their practice the next day not knowing what contract they would work to. And how much they were going to be paid. 

For weeks we had been hearing calls from the BDA and other bodies for something to happen. But with the end of the 60% targets looming we heard nothing.

The fact that was the case just hours before the end of that arrangement really does show contempt towards the dental profession. 

How can they expect independent contractors to run their independent businesses in a way that meets the requirements of a contract that they didn’t know the details of until hours before it was due to start?

Increasing targets

Of course, we now know that until January 2022 dentists in England will work to a 65% target. And if they fail to reach that level then they could face potential clawbacks. 

On the back of that announcement, I spoke with one practice and a member of staff. They told me that the wondering and waiting has been so painful. And then when the news arrived it was just another level of pain.

That is how many practices are feeling right now. Many feel angry that they have been treated in this way and have to wait so long to get answers. 

There are bigger practices out there that can deal with this increase in activity targets. But there is a lot more who will have been sweating and waiting for the late, new announcement. 

My point that comes from the lateness of the new targets is that if you wanted to keep dentists onside and in the NHS, and prevent them from leaving to go private, you would have given them a lot more notice and delivered the news in a different way.

‘Incompetent’

From a personal point of view, if my team were waiting for a big announcement that hadn’t arrived, I would still keep in touch with them and explain that, currently, we don’t have any news.

But to not communicate a single thing with practices until the day before the new targets is incompetent. It shows a complete lack of empathy to a profession that is already under great pressure. 

It is like sending someone into work the next day and saying: ‘Sorry, I’m not sure what I am going to pay you today’.

I think that silence until the very last moment really speaks volumes. And I think there is only going to be negatives as far as NHS England is concerned.

NHS to private dentistry

There are some people who have been contemplating going private for some time. Based on how this last announcement was handled, they will take their future into their own hands.

Others will still remain on the fence and will continue to observe with interest over the coming months. Whereas others will have had their confidence and self-belief eroded so much that they will stay put and continue to accept what NHS England asks of them. 

One of the main questions coming from the news is, why 5%? What is that going to achieve? How is it going to benefit the NHS? And how is it going to benefit the public if access issues are still the same? That question is on the lips of many at the moment. 

So, for me, the whole situation shows a lack of respect for dentists. As well as showing how little thought has gone into paving a way forward to get practices back to some kind of normality.

After all, the increased target hasn’t come with a reduction in standard operating procedures.


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