Whatever happened to our NHS dentists?
The number of qualified dentists is at an all-time high, but the number doing NHS work has fallen significantly.
Last week in Parliament in a three hour debate I raised this issue again and asked government to look at ways to increase the country’s number of NHS dentists.
First off, the payment model needs addressing. Tatton dentists have told me the current payment system of units of dental activity, introduced by the Labour Government back in 2006, has never worked and needs radical changes. A check-up with X-rays counts as one unit; adding a filling or several could count as another two units; and providing a full set of dentures is seven. Dentists are losing money when treating the most complex cases and those most in need.
Secondly, we need to make being an NHS dentist appealing to newly qualified dentists to lure them back into the NHS.
One suggestion I proposed to the Minister was wiping student debt for newly trained dentists on the condition they work in the NHS. If payment is low for NHS dentistry and training debt is high, it’s no wonder newly trained dentists are going into private practice.
The Minister agreed urgent changes were needed and the government is working at pace to remedy the system.
Lockdown also proved disastrous for dentistry, 50 million appointments were lost due to the restrictions imposed on dentists and 3,000 dentists stopped providing NHS dentistry during that period because the restrictions made it financial unviable.
In fact a recent poll by the British Dental Association found that 45 per cent of dentists in England were doing an average of 25 per cent less NHS work since the start of the pandemic. The same poll also found that 75 per cent of dentists are thinking of reducing their NHS commitment this year, with almost half considering either a change of career, early retirement or turning fully private.
We need to urgently repair the failings of the NHS dentistry system and make it an appealing place for dentists to work only then will he have enough dentists to serve our local community. At present waiting lists are huge and that is if you can find a dentist who is an NHS practice.
The issue is not going away and we need an urgent plan to tackle it. I have been clear to ministers we need to address funding, training, recruitment and tackle staff retention and I will keep making these points until we have a plan in place that delivers for my constituents.