NEWLY qualified dentists say they are being forced to take up second jobs because the current NHS payment arrangements have left some earning the equivalent of the minimum wage.

They have accused the Scottish Government of treating them like 'a loophole they can't be bothered to fix'. One dentist told how he could 'earn more working in McDonalds'.

In Scotland, all NHS dentists are currently earning 80% of their usual monthly earnings while patient numbers are capped due to Covid.

However, because new dentists have not built up the same history as more experienced employees, earnings are being based on their previous trainee salary of £32k.

As they are now employed by a dental practice, around half of their earnings go to the practice which allows owners to fund dental nurses, administrative staff, materials and equipment. 

"Shockingly, one of our cohorts describes being paid only £856 one month causing them to earn an equivalent of £4.23 an hour for a full-time job. 

New dental recruits say this has left them earning much less than thei trainee salary which has led to some pushing patients towards more lucrative, private treatment.

In England, employees are paid as a new dentist rather than a trainee and issued with a contract, which allows them to earn in excess of £50k.

READ MORE: NHS Dentistry crisis looming as graduations postponed and student intake suspended 

The British Dental Association (BDA) said young dentists had been left in an 'impossible situation"and called on the Scottish Government to introduce an intermediate payment system to replace the current arrangements.

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The BDA has previously warned that the NHS risks haemorrhaging existing staff to the more lucrative private sector. 

More than 700 dentists have signed a petition in support of last year's cohort of newly qualified staff, of which there are around 100 in Scotland, calling on the government to act.

One dentist, who is 24 and working in a Glasgow practice, said: "It's a complex situation financially, which is why I think it's been pushed to the bottom of the agenda.

"The Scottish dental system a dentist's salary is based on the amount of work they do, so you if you do ten fillings and ten exams you get paid for that.

"In the English system you have a contract where they will say we think you will do about 300 fillings a month and they will get paid based on that.

"So that's why it has been a little easier for English dentists to get paid because they have essentially been given a contract. And although they are still self employed, they have a contract that is a little bit easier to calculate.

READ MORE: Scots dentists 'more likely' to turn away NHS patient as waiting lists for basic check-ups soar

"Shockingly, one of our cohorts describes being paid only £856 one month causing them to earn an equivalent of £4.23 an hour for a full-time job. 

"This is in parallel with the English system where new dentists are being paid as a new dentist rather than a trainee, earning around £50,000 a year for the same job as in Scotland.

Routine dental services such as fillings, scaling and root canal were re-started last November but patient numbers remain capped and dentists must observe a“fallow period” after aerosol generating procedures.

The Scottish Government announced last month that graduations are being postponed with no new dental students taken on this year. Universities Scotland, which represents the country’s higher education institutions, said clinical training had been “severely limited” due to the risk of Covid spreading via aerosol transmission.

The 24-year-old dentist said the financial situation had led to some dentists pushing patients towards private treatment.

READ MORE: Dentists and pharmacists asked to self-test for Covid twice a week from end of March 

He said: "If you are in a practice with a lot of private potential then you can make up the cost, it won't impact you that much. A lot of dentists in our position have been pushing private more than they normally would. 

"I could do 100 fillings of one and I would be earning the same low price but I get paid for every private treatment I do.

"The NHS payments system overall isn't great -it never has been - but in the past year, because everyone has been on 80% of that it's obviously even worse.

"There are few other groups who are in a similar position such as those who were doing locum shifts, who don't have a fixed contract in one practice.

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"But we seem to be one of the worst affected. It is as if they have decided we are a loophole that they can't be bothered to fix.

"If two people study in Glasgow and one person does their traineeship in a Glasgow practice and the other goes to Newcastle, the dentist in Newcastle will be paid an average of £50k whereas everyone in Scotland is getting paid 50% of 80% essentially.

"I think a lot of people accepted it because they thought it would be a month or two we were being paid this while we figure out a system but there are no signs that that is going to change until we are completely back to normal.

The British Dental Association said it was aware of cases where new dentists were not being transferred sufficient numbers of patients to allow them to receive a sustainable level of income. 

READ MORE: Donald Macleod: Painful crisis in our dental surgeries 

While the numbers of instances appear to be going down, it said some were still struggling. The BDA said the NHS Practitioner Services Division intended to contact dentists who are experiencing financial difficulties.

David McColl, Chair of the British Dental Association's Scottish Dental Practice Committee said: “Some of Scotland's next generation of NHS dentists have been left in an impossible position. 

"We need the Scottish Government to take urgent action.

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"Any health professional left facing less than the minimum wage will be forced to make choices, which could have lasting consequences for services across Scotland."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, himself a former dentist, said he had raised the issue with the government.

He said: “From speaking to different people, this is impacting their mental health and wellbeing. If we are going to reward our frontline NHS workers this needs resolved.”

The Scottish Government say dentists are self-employed independent dental contractors and their income is determined by the practice owner. This is typically 50% but can be "considerably more".

The governent said the responsibility for ensuring a new associate is appropriately reimbursed from the financial support measures sits with the practice owner.