Great Ormond Street Hospital unable to hire dentists for two years amid national staffing crisis

Exclusive: NHS’s most famous children’s hospital warns of “significant” delays in dentistry as its unable to recruit staff

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 08 March 2023 16:33 GMT
Half of all children’s tooth extractions in 2021-22 were due to preventable tooth decay
Half of all children’s tooth extractions in 2021-22 were due to preventable tooth decay (PA)

A staffing crisis in children’s dentistry has prompted the urgent removal of junior doctors from the UK’s most famous children’s hospital.

Great Ormond Street Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (GOSH) has struggled to recruit consultants for its paediatric dentistry services for at least two years, which has led to trainee doctors going unsupervised, according to a new report by regulator Health Education England.

A report seen by The Independent said the service was running with just one part-time consultant but needed at least two.

The news comes amid a national “crisis” in dentistry, with the latest data from the government showing that half of all children’s tooth extractions in 2021-22 were due to “preventable tooth decay”.

GOSH told The Independent it was struggling with a “limited pool” of paediatric dentists and, as a result of shortages, many patients were waiting longer than the 18-week standard.

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According to a report by the education regulator, Health Education England, inspectors were sent to GOSH’s paediatric dentistry service after “serious concerns” were raised by trainees about insufficient supervision levels.

As a result of the inspection, HEE removed junior doctors from the department until it was able to appoint two consultants to oversee trainees.

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children says it has struggled to recruit consultants to its dentistry department (PA Archive)

The report said: “The HEE review panel were seriously concerned with the current clinical supervision arrangements for paediatric dentistry trainees due to staffing issues within the department and the limited capacity of the single, part-time paediatric dentistry clinical supervisor to provide consistent, adequate supervision of trainees.”

The trust admitted to having staffing difficulties and told inspectors it had not received any applications for consultant jobs, despite two found of recruitment.

“The trust reported that the consultant had worked extra hours and undertaken additional work to the detriment of their annual leave to try and provide a good learning experience for trainees, however, it was acknowledged that this had been a challenging time for the department.”

The trust has had only one consultant working within the department for the last 18 months, and as a result, the stretched consultant did not have time to provide training.

A spokesperson for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children said: “We understand the HEE decision to withdraw our dental trainees and are working closely with them to resolve the issues raised. As a Trust we encourage members of staff to speak up if they have any concerns so that we can improve the care of our patients and create the best working environment for colleagues.

“Because of staff shortages, we are experiencing significant delays within the service. This means that many of our patients are waiting longer than the national target for an appointment. We are reviewing all patients and prioritising appointments for those with the most urgent care needs.  We are also talking to other hospitals about seeing the patients on our working list.”

Oral surgery is the NHS’ second worst-performing speciality for waiting times, with just 49 per cent of patients seen within 18 weeks and 288,955 patients waiting for treatment in January.

Other major children’s hospitals have also reported dentistry recruitment challenges, with thousands waiting for outpatient appointments at one trust, The Independent understands. And children’s dentists have also warned that such delays were driving up hospital admissions.

Urshla Devalia, from the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, told The Independent: “We have to remember that tooth decay remains the leading reason for hospital admissions among 6 to 10-year-olds. BSPD believes this is wholly unacceptable when we consider that dental caries (tooth decay) is a largely preventable disease. The current NHS dental contract doesn’t work for children and dentists are handing back their contracts in unprecedented numbers – so yes, there is a nationwide crisis in children’s oral health that needs urgent attention.”

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