The Perfect Storm – The recruitment crisis in NHS dentistry

Helen Macnamara, Deputy Cabinet Secretary and the second most powerful official in the country said ‘I’ve come through here to the Prime Minister’s office to tell you all – I think we are absolutely f****d’ – Was she actually talking about the recruitment crisis in NHS dentistry?


The perfect storm of Brexit, the NHS UDA model and Covid pandemic resulting in 15m missed dental appointments, has created a recruitment “crisis” in UK dentistry. The number of new EEA and non EEA dentists registering in the UK has been falling over the past decade.   Added to the fact that UK borders have effectively been closed for the past 18 months and recent overseas registration examinations were cancelled there has been fewer ‘new’ Dentists entering the market.  It has also been taking longer to process the necessary paperwork for NHS registration due to Covid, so the average time to hire and start seeing patients has increased.  There are approximately 1300 graduates annually from 17 dental universities in the UK.Covid has disrupted final year students and their decision making around careers.


There was a unique window of opportunity during the first lockdown of 2020 when Dentistry was closed.  Traffic to DentalTalent.co.uk was up 400% from March 2020 until July 2020 and the average time users spent online was up 250%.  For once Associates had the time to search for roles and attend online interviews.  Proactive practices and groups seized the opportunity to recruit Associates that were treated badly by their employers, boosting their workforce for when they were able to reopen.  After this we have seen a little more stagnation from candidates.  A poll we ran in September 2020 resulted in 73% (of 8,764 respondents) said they weren’t planning on looking for a new role in the next 6 months unless they were forced to. It seems Associates are staying put if a practice has looked after them through the pandemic and has now reengaged and made them busy again.  The Associates that were mopped up will display some loyalty to their new employers for the next few years and probably not look to move positions for some time.  Many groups are offering golden hello handshakes for Associates to join them, it’s a buyers market at the moment and candidate know this.  We are also seeing that flexibility is important.  Practices that can offer a flexible number of UDA’s and days have a better chance of securing candidates.  The actual UDA values are largely similar across dentistry and you cannot offer a value that isn’t economically viable.  Adverts that dictate only very specific days are available are unlikely to attract many candidates.  Practices that have successfully hired find the right candidate for them and fit the Associate in around existing Associates and surgery times.  

The Perfect Storm - The recruitment crisis in NHS dentistry


Increased M&A activity has also caused some stagnation with candidates.  If a retiring Principal has sold to a larger group we are seeing that Associates are waiting to see what their employment journey will look like under new ownership.  This may in time create better candidate flow if Associates aren’t happy with new contracts and seek to move.  Private dentistry is expanding all the time and is perceived to offer more flexibility and earning potential attracting candidates away from NHS dentistry also.  

Advertising on www.DentalTalent.co.uk in association with the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry is a great way to find Associates for your practice or dental group.We have a very engaged membership and social media following of 50,000 dental industry professionals& 8,000 monthly users.  We are a fantastic place to advertise to attract active and passive candidates looking to further their career development.    If you would like to advertise please email [email protected] our team will create, optimise and upload the advert for you.