Minister to be challenged over plan to boost dentistry

Dentists have called on the Government to show how the plan will lead to 2.5 million more appointments.

Dentists have raised concerns about the lack of impact the NHS dental recovery plan will have on services
Dentists have raised concerns about the lack of impact the NHS dental recovery plan will have on services (Rui Vieira/PA)

Just 3% of dentists believe that the Government’s dental recovery plan will result in them seeing more NHS patients, according to a new poll.

A survey of 1,104 dentists in England found that 43% actually believe the proposals will lead to them seeing fewer NHS patients, while 54% said the number of NHS patients they see will remain the same.

The Government unveiled its £200 million plan to bolster NHS dentistry in England last month.

However, leading dentists said the recovery package will not be enough to help people struggling to access dental care.

A new poll by the British Dental Association (BDA) found that three-quarters (75%) of dentists do not believe that the plan will improve NHS access for new patients.

More than nine in 10 (93%) said that the proposals are not sufficiently ambitious to meet the scale of the challenge facing NHS dentistry.

The dental recovery plan includes:

– £20,000 bonuses for dentists working in under-served communities.

– Dentists being paid more for NHS work.

– A “Smile for Life” advice programme aimed at new parents and mobile dental teams being deployed to schools.

– The rollout of so-called “dental vans” in rural and coastal communities.

– Plans for the biggest expansion of water fluoridation in England since the 1980s.

As the plan was unveiled, hundreds of people were seen queuing in Bristol after a dentist opened up its books for new NHS patients.

Police were called to help manage the queues people stood for hours hoping to get on the list for NHS care.

MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee are to quiz Health Minister Dame Andrea Leadsom on the Government’s recovery plan for NHS dental services on Tuesday.

The Government said that the plan will “fund more than 1.5 million additional NHS dentistry treatments or 2.5 million NHS dentistry appointments”.

But the BDA has called on the Government to release the modelling behind the claim.

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, who will also give evidence to the committee on Tuesday, said: “Check-ups are hard to come by, but it will prove much harder for Ministers to find a dentist who backs their outlandish claims.

“This profession has seen through the spin.

People in line outside the St Pauls dental practice in Bristol last month
People in line outside the St Pauls dental practice in Bristol last month (Ben Birchall/PA)

“Empty soundbites won’t stop queues outside practices, and dodgy statistics won’t call time on ‘DIY’ dentistry.

“Bringing dentistry back into the 21st century requires real commitment, which is frankly in short supply.”

Chris McCann, from Healthwatch England, said: “NHS dentistry has been in crisis for some time, with many people unable to access an NHS dentist and not having the means to pay for private care.

“The dental recovery plan is meant to help alleviate the problem patients face by offering more check-ups to those who have not seen a dentist for years.

“We’ve yet to see any official data on how well the plan is working, but it’s concerning to hear that so few dentists appear to have confidence that it will.

“In the short-term, practical steps must be taken to make it as easy as possible for the public to determine which dentists are offering appointments to those who haven’t been seen in the last two years. In the longer run, we need more fundamental reform so everyone can access and afford dental care.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “After 14 years of Conservative neglect, patients are literally pulling their own teeth out, and tooth decay is the number one reason for six to 10 year-olds going to hospital.

“Today’s revelation that the Tories’ hastily cobbled together dentistry plan comes with no new funding is what we’ve come to expect from this shameless government.

“These horror stories of people extracting teeth with pliers and screwdrivers show the real cost of Conservative chaos. Instead of using doors and string to remove teeth people need the chance to show this failed Tory government the door.

“The Conservatives need to move out the way and allow a Labour government to rescue NHS dentistry and get patients seen on time once again.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our recovery plan will create 2.5 million more dental appointments this year by offering cash incentives to dentists taking on new NHS patients and golden hellos of up to £20,000 to encourage dentists to work in underserved areas.

“Backed by £200 million in 2024/25, the fully funded plan will support practices to deliver on their obligations and provide more NHS care for patients.

“The government already invests more than £3 billion each year to support NHS dentistry, and we are starting to see progress. Last year, 1.7 million more adults and around 800,000 more children saw an NHS dentist compared to the previous year.

“The Government is also developing further recommendations for dental contract reform to reflect the care needed by different patients.”