NHS dentistry – a time for optimism or despair?

New changes made to NHS dental contract

In a recent Practice Plan webinar, sales and marketing director, Nigel Jones, spoke to chair of the BDA, Eddie Crouch, about his hopes for NHS dentistry in 2023.

It’s a new year and we’ve got a new inquiry, Eddie. And I wonder whether that means there’s new hope for NHS dentistry. So, how optimistic are you feeling about NHS dentistry?

I thought you were going to say: ‘It’s a new year, and it’s a new minister.’ But thankfully, it’s still the same minister that we met just before Christmas. He’s lasted a bit longer than the last one.

How optimistic am I? Well, I think the inquiry’s something for which we’ve been lobbying for a long time. It was supposed to happen in 2019, then Boris Johnson called a snap election and so that inquiry was put in the bin.

We did get the opportunity to go to the Health Select Committee, where Shawn Charlwood spoke about workforce issues earlier last year. And Jeremy Hunt, at that inquiry, said we would get a Health Select Committee inquiry into dentistry.

As Jeremy Hunt went on to bigger and greater things, we were unsure that promise would be carried through to the next Chair.

So, we were pleased when I met Steve Brine (Chair of Health Select Committee) at a meeting in Parliament, and he told me he would honour that pledge. And thankfully he has gone ahead and done that. So that is some positivity.

No progress on reform

But we all know that the last Health Select Committee I was involved in was the one post introduction of the 2006 contract. And that went on to have the Steele Review and the prototypes and the pilots. And here we are, 16, 17 years later after an inquiry, and still no progress on contract reform of any significance.

You may be aware that I got invited recently to a meeting with Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay.

I was talking to John Renshaw (Chair of BDA 2000 – 2006). He told me I was probably the first chair of the BDA to meet the actual Secretary of State for Health since he did back in the Options for Change era [c2003]. So that in itself must be cause for optimism.

The meeting we had jointly with the BMA at the Department of Health was helpful. There were a lot of promises about further meetings, and assurances that they understood dentistry was a significant problem for them. They said they were honouring the commitment of the Prime Minister.

When Rishi Sunak was campaigning to become leader and Prime Minister, dentistry featured extremely highly in his contest with Liz Truss.

So, I’m optimistic that dentistry is very much at the forefront of the politics at the moment with the inquiry. Also, me meeting a Secretary of State for Health, I think that is encouraging. What we want to see is more than just listening, we want some action. And that I’m less optimistic about.

Eddie Crouch and Nigel Jones

I think that’s certainly my view of the inquiry. Maybe I’m slightly jaded with all the analysis about NHS dentistry, but I’m not entirely convinced that they’re going to come up with anything terribly new. Most of the issues, most of the problems, have been explored ad infinitum.

To me, the fact that there’s been so little progress since the last inquiry shows the complexity of trying to come up with a solution. So, the thing that I’m hoping for most from the inquiry is that it will really bring a focus on the gravity of the situation now and the urgency with which it needs to be addressed. Because from where I’m sitting, things are on the verge of collapse.

EC: Well, absolutely. I’ve probably spoken to about 120 politicians since I’ve been chair of the BDA, and every one of them recognises that the service is really falling apart.

And it used to be just the rural and coastal areas, but I’m meeting MPs even in my own city of Birmingham, who are concerned about things that Healthwatch are reporting. So, this is front and centre.

I did some radio interviews recently, and apart from myself, there was someone from Healthwatch, and Peter Aldous, MP from the east of England, who is someone who is advocating very much for contractual reform. And we were all on the same page.

The days of blaming the greedy dentist wanting to say that the NHS contract isn’t suitable so they can leave and give an excuse are long gone. The population understands where the blame lies, and it’s firmly at Westminster.

I do think that the BDA have done a fantastic job of separating the system from the profession. The greedy dentist thing just doesn’t seem relevant at all now, people seem to have really grasped what’s actually the issue. Which I think is very much to the BDA’s credit. Let’s see if our optimism remains intact after the inquiry.

If you’re considering your options away from the NHS and are looking for a provider who will hold your hand through the process whilst moving at a pace that’s right for you, why not start the conversation with Practice Plan on 01691 684165, or book your one-to-one NHS to private call today practiceplan.co.uk/nhsvirtual.

For more information visit the Practice Plan website www.practiceplan.co.uk/nhs.

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar