Scotland’s dental students face an extended final year of study, with fears many could be unfairly financially burdened without a support package.
Teaching programmes at the country’s three dental schools – in Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow – have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with fears raised the 2021 cohort may not have gained enough experience to graduate this year.
Dentists use aerosol-generating tools as part of treatment procedures, the use of which has been proven to exacerbate the spread of virus particles in the air, which has caused a curtailed service at dental practices and delays in teaching, the British Dental Association (BDA) has warned.
Dentists call for funds to boost ‘Covid armoury’
The BDA has called on the Scottish Government to provide support for final-year students, writing to Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
A delay in students graduating could also have a detrimental impact on workforce numbers in the coming years.
‘This really difficult’
National clinical director Professor Jason Leitch, who is a qualified dentist, said they would not want to delay any students from graduating, but if they had to, “they would”.
He said said: “This is really difficult. It is difficult for all further and higher practical education subjects, dentistry being one of them.
“It is particularly tricky because of the aerosol-generating nature of what final-year students need to do in order to get the experience to make them safe when they leave university.
“I know Tom Ferris, chief dental officer, has been in regular dialogue with the three Scottish dental schools on how we can make that as safe as we can. Patient safety is the principal thing we are concerned about, but also the wellbeing of those students.
“We don’t want to have to extend their university time but if we have to, we will and will support them to do so.
“We also want them to be in the workforce, helping as much as they can.
“It is also a problem for those studying motor mechanics or beauty therapy and other subjects which require a practical tutorial we have had to hold back on as a result of the pandemic.”
Mr Swinney added: “Last spring it was very reassuring a variety of institutions working with the government were able to come to very satisfactory arrangements around assessing and certificating the learning and achievements of individual students, who could then go on to their careers.
“Of course, many of them came right into the health service to play an important role in dealing with the pandemic, for which we are extremely grateful.
“There will practical discussions to address some of these issues. The government will be very much engaged in this.”
Students need certainty
David McColl, chairman of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, warned some students could face an extra £8,000 in fees, on top of the £32,000 debt they may have already accrued.
He 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.”