Pandemic restrictions mean students have been unable to gain sufficient clinical experience, says Mairi Gougeon, Scotland’s public health minister.

All dental students in Scotland will have to repeat a year after their training was disrupted by COVID-19, the Holyrood government has said.

Ministers say that students had not been able to gain sufficient clinical experience of aerosol-generating procedures. They  have been restricted during the pandemic because they often result in the release of airborne particles.

Students will be offered a bursary of up to £6,750 to support them through the additional year of training.

‘The quality and calibre of dental treatment in Scotland is outstanding. It needs protecting by taking the appropriate measures in education. This is to ensure future dental professionals have reached the General Dental Council’s standard of clinical competence and can enter the workforce with confidence,’ says Mrs Gougeon.

Graduation for final-year students at the dental schools of the universities of Dundee and Glasgow will be delayed until summer 2022. Final-year students at the University of Aberdeen will be deferred until Christmas 2021. All students in other year groups will repeat the 2020-21 academic year.

Deeply disappointing

Matt Crilly, Scotland president of the National Union of Students, says the need to repeat a year is ‘deeply disappointing’ for students.

‘We welcome the Scottish government’s support for students to access bursaries next year, however, we now need clarity from the Scottish government to ensure all students can benefit from support and that no student is financially penalised as a result,’ he said.

‘The marketisation of universities means many students have to pay astronomical fees to access education. It is only right these dentistry students should receive full compensation.’

In response to the announcement, Professor Phil Taylor, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said: ‘Dentistry as a profession has been uniquely disadvantaged throughout the pandemic in comparison to other primary care services due to the lack of meaningful support made available for the sector, and this is one of the many resulting knock-on effects.

‘I sincerely hope dental students are able to obtain a high standard of practical training. A well as experience as part of their studies over the course of the coming academic year. This will benefit the dental profession as a whole going forward.

‘The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh will actively seek to provide support for students through this period. We are now offering free affiliate membership to all dental students in Scotland. We will continue to provide relevant educational content in order to further support their studies.’

Bursary

To help mitigate the impact of repeating a year of study, dental students who will have to repeat a year will have the opportunity to apply for a bursary to the value of their normal student loan award. This varies depending on household income, from £4,750 to £6,750.

Students should contact their dental school for further guidance.

Students with particular circumstances will continue to be eligible for other sources of bursary support. Such as the Dental Student Support Grant and SAAS bursaries. Also, students can apply for a student loan if they wish.