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News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin September 2011
14 SePtember 2011 WORKFORCe SHORTAGeS in dentistry could be a myth national dental update Health reform continues to dominate much of the Australian Government’s agenda at present and crucial to the success of the reform agenda is an adequate supply of health professionals. There is no shortage of evidence that highlights the problems of supply with particular health disciplines. Dentistry has not escaped from being lumped in with all other health professionals in the discussion but is there really a shortage of dentists? WORKfORCE STUdIES There have been a number of reports released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) recently regarding the dental workforce and while an update on dental workforce numbers is welcomed and well overdue, the report uses data which are five years old and therefore fails to represent the true picture: the likely oversupply of dental practitioners entering the workforce in the next few years. The AIHW report, Dentists, specialists and allied practitioners in Australia1 uses data collected from the 2006 labour force survey for dentists in all states and territories, with the exception of Western Australia and Tasmania where they are collected directly by the AIHW’s Dental Services Research Unit to indicate the number of dental practitioners registered and working in Australia. The report indicates that there were 12,212 dentists registered in Australia in 2006. This represents a 20.8% increase in the number of registered dentists when compared to 1996 figures. During this decade, there were on average around 250 new dentists entering the workforce each year. This figure mainly represented graduates from Australian university dental programs and a small number of overseas qualified dentists registered to practise in Australia. fUTURE SUPPLY Based on Dental Board of Australia figures in May 2011, the number of registered dentists is now 13,750 indicating an average of just over 300 new entrants to the workforce annually since 2006. In 2013, the number of graduates from Australian university dental programs is expected to be around 450 per annum. This increase is as a result of three new dental schools coming onboard in 2007 and subsequent increases in student intake across existing dental schools. Figures for overseas qualified dentists entering the country under the Australian Dental Council (ADC) pathway suggest an additional 200 applicants are meeting Australian registration requirements each year. When combined, these figures culminate into approximately 650 potential new dentists entering the workforce in 2013. When compared to 2006 figures, this represents more than double the number of new entrants to the dentist workforce each year. Based on current intakes to Australian university dental programs, it is projected that Australian graduates alone will match this figure by the year 2016 without including those entering the country under the ADC pathway. The effect of lifting the cap on Commonwealth Supported Places for domestic students will also impact on student intakes. Compounding workforce entry supply is a decreasing exit rate. A recent report by Schofield2 indicates that dentists are remaining in the workforce longer than was first anticipated. Coinciding with the increase in numbers commencing dental programs, there has been a substantial increase in the number of universities offering programs in allied oral health. Graduates of these courses are eligible for registration as dental hygienists, dental therapists and oral health therapists. Graduates of oral health programs will reach in excess of 300 per annum in 2013 and if utilised effectively, could result in significant improvements to the delivery of preventive oral health services and oral health promotion, particularly in the oral health outcomes for children and young persons. However, the impending outcomes of work being undertaken by Health Workforce Australia regarding the scope of practice of allied oral health professionals suggests that rather than using this group of highly skilled professionals in the role for which they were specifically designed, there is a likelihood that their scope of practice will be expanded to treat adults and thus move them away from and creating a void for essential preventive oral care, oral health promotion and treatment of children. AddRESSInG ACCESS IS THE SOLUTIOn In recent years there has been reference to the ‘tsunami’ of medical graduates who would enter the Australian workforce and how the system would cope with finding them all intern places. A tidal wave of dentists is also heading to shore and that wave will be followed by another as numbers of graduates from allied oral health programs enter the workforce. The real problem in Australia is not one of workforce shortages, it is about funding and access. The answer to access is not to change who does what. Rather, government should look to real and lasting solutions that put the most qualified and capable practitioners where they can make the most impact. We now have, and will have in the future, more than enough dentists to provide all of the oral health services Australians need. Do we have the commitment from the Australian and State and Territory Governments to make it happen? Source: National Dental Update, August 2011. The ADA National Dental Update is a monthly publication distributed to politicians and opinion leaders. Other issues can be viewed at www.ada.org.au
ADA News Bulletin August 2011
ADA News Bulletin October 2011