Will mandatory vaccination plans devastate dental services?

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  Posted by: The Probe      17th December 2021

The British Dental Association has warned fast-tracked parliamentary approval of mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers is set to have a calamitous impact on dental services already stretched to breaking point, with new evidence suggesting levels of hesitancy could push thousands out of the workforce.

According to a survey of high street dentists in England:  

  • 1 in 10 respondents say they are not fully vaccinated, with 9% reporting they have not had their first jab.
  • Less than two-thirds of respondents believe all dentists operating in their practices are fully vaccinated, with less than half saying the same for dental nurses, who are integral to supporting the delivery of care.
  • Over 30% believe dental nurses based at their practices will leave as a result of the mandate, with nearly 15% of dentists saying they will leave themselves. Even some who have received the vaccine cite ethical concerns of working under this compulsory model.  

NHS England has acknowledged it has no indication of vaccine uptake among the high street NHS dental workforce and other contractors like GPs, who deliver NHS services but are not NHS employees. Dentist leaders stress this data gives the clearest indication yet of the potential scale of the damage that mandating vaccinations could cause. 

Under new regulations staff will risk facing the sack if they are not double jabbed by next April.  With recruitment and retention problems already endemic among both dentists and the wider team, any exodus will have devastating consequences for patient access. The service is already facing unprecedented backlogs, with over 37 million NHS dental appointments lost since the first lockdown due to service shut-down and infection control measures.

The vaccine mandate will cover all CQC-registered health professionals, so will include dentists and their teams across both NHS and private settings. There are currently more than 28,000 General Dental Practitioners working in high street practice in England, and nearly 47,000 registered dental nurses. The BDA has warned that on the basis of this intelligence the mandate risks translating into thousands of vacancies that will likely remain unfilled.

The BDA has supported the vaccine rollout, but has decried the lack of any meaningful scrutiny of the regulations, which was subject to a damning report by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. While an impact assessment was published at the eleventh hour, it has simply extrapolated patterns of vaccine hesitancy for primary care dentistry from the wider NHS workforce, and not even acknowledged the depth of recruitment and retention problems in the sector. The union has stressed that current Standard Operating Procedures, which includes twice-weekly COVID tests for team members, already set a rigorous standard for protecting both patients and staff.  

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said: “Mandatory vaccination risks dropping a bomb on a service already stretched to breaking point. We now face a grim New Year where thousands of dental team members will walk out as a result of regulations railroaded through parliament, leaving thousands of vacancies that will never be filled.

“Dentists have supported the vaccine rollout, with many downing drills to play their part, but Ministers must think again about compulsion. Dental services are already operating to a rigorous standard on safety. This mandate is a blunt instrument, which will have devastating consequences for millions of patients across this country.” 

British Dental Association online survey of 1,642 General Dental Practitioners practicing in England. Fieldwork 3-7 December 2021. 

What is your current vaccination status? 

I have not received a COVID vaccination at this time 9% 144
I have received a single vaccination 1% 9
I have received a double dose 10% 171
I have received a booster following a double dose 78% 1,280
Prefer not to say 2% 38

What proportion of your practice workforce would you estimate are fully vaccinated?

  0% (none are vaccinated) 1-9% 10-19% 20-29% 30-39% 40-49% 50-59% 60-69% 70-79% 80-89% 90-99% 100% (all are vaccinated) Don’t know/ prefer not to say Not applicable
Dentists 0.8% 0.4% 0.4% 0.6% 0.4% 0.8% 1.8% 1.5% 4.3% 8.7% 10.1% 66.1% 3.7% 0.6%
  13 6 6 9 7 13 29 24 70 143 165 1,086 61 10
Hygienists/therapists 3.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4% 0.2% 0.3% 1.8% 1.4% 1.5% 3.0% 4.5% 57.6% 8.2% 17.4%
  52 5 5 6 3 5 30 23 24 49 74 946 134 286
Nurses 1.3% 0.5% 0.6% 0.9% 0.7% 1.2% 3.1% 3.6% 7.1% 12.5% 15.7% 48.4% 4.3% 0.2%
  21 8 10 14 12 19 51 59 116 205 258 794 71 4
Non clinical staff 2.1% 0.7% 0.4% 0.7% 0.4% 0.7% 2.7% 2.0% 3.8% 6.5% 8.9% 56.8% 8.2% 6.2%
  35 12 6 11 6 12 44 32 63 106 146 932 135 102

How likely is it that your practice will lose any of the following staff in the coming months as a consequence of the vaccine mandate?

  Extremely unlikely Unlikely Neither likely nor unlikely Likely Extremely likely Don’t know/ prefer not to say Not applicable Net likely
I will leave 62.1% 8.5% 2.5% 4.4% 9.6% 3.4% 9.6% 14.0%
  1,019 139 41 72 158 55 158 230
Other Dentists will leave 57.61% 12.06% 3.41% 4.57% 7.13% 4.99% 10.23% 11.7%
  946 198 56 75 117 82 168 192
Hygienists/therapists will leave 48.1% 11.2% 3.1% 4.6% 6.0% 6.0% 21.0% 10.6%
  790 184 51 76 98 99 344 174
Nurses will leave 41.8% 12.5% 5.4% 13.8% 16.7% 4.6% 5.3% 30.5%
  686 205 88 226 274 76 87 500
Non clinical staff will leave 42.8% 14.5% 6.2% 9.7% 9.7% 6.7% 10.5% 19.4%
  702 238 102 159 159 110 172 318


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