Parliamentary inquiry into the state of NHS dentistry has opened

This morning, the Health and Social Care Committee received 'brutally honest' oral evidence on the state of NHS dentistry from dental leaders. 

This morning, the Health and Social Care Committee received ‘brutally honest’ oral evidence on the state of NHS dentistry from dental leaders.

MPs heard the facts about the state of NHS dentistry this morning.

In the first public evidence session into the Health and Social Care Committee’s NHS dentistry inquiry, dental leaders provided oral evidence on the NHS dentistry crisis.

The inquiry aims to deepen MPs’ and the public’s understanding of the problems people are having in accessing NHS dentistry.

It will also explore the steps the government needs to take to improve access, and the extent the NHS dental contract ‘disincentivises dentists from taking on new patients’.

In addition, MPs will look at incentives to recruit and retain NHS dental professionals, and the possible impact of changes being implemented in April 2023.

Steve Brine, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said the first session into the inquiry was ‘brutally honest’ and showed the situation for what it is.

£400 million underspend

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association (BDA) General Practice Committee, was one dental leader providing evidence on NHS dentistry.

‘The recent changes do not come close to a reformed contract,’ he said. ‘These are minor tweaks. They will not stop the exodus of dentists and their teams from the NHS.’

He added: ‘The fundamental barrier has been funding. There is only enough NHS dentistry commissioned in this country for 50% of the population.

‘Now can you imagine if this was general medical practice? There would be rioting.’

Rachael Maskell, Labour (Co-op) MP for York Central, said that her constituents will be infuriated when they hear about the £400 million underspend while they are stuck in a ‘dental desert’ and cannot access healthcare.

In addition, MP for Sheffield Central, Paul Blonfield, said: ‘We are 10 minutes in and you have painted a comprehensively bleak and challenging picture.’

‘Losing hope’

Professor Nick Barker, general dental practitioner and professor of oral health science at the University of Essex, was also providing oral evidence.

‘The contractual problem is the whole problem,’ he told MPs. ‘If you’re working with something that is unworkable, nobody wants to do it, and therein lies the problem.’

Sarah White, Association of Dental Groups (ADG) clinical director, told MPs: ‘Our dentists have been waiting 10 years for real reform. They want it and they’re losing hope.

‘Unless we give them some hope for the future, they won’t want to continue to provide NHS care.’

She added: ‘Those that are left in the NHS have tried to pick up the pieces because a lot of their colleagues are leaving.

‘We’ve got a demotivated, unhappy workforce. That’s not good for anybody and it’s not good for patients.’

When closing the session, Steve said: ‘We will continue with this inquiry of which there is, obviously, significant interest.’

‘Once in a generation opportunity’

The ADG has welcomed the inquiry starting today as a once in a generation opportunity to secure a sustainable future for NHS dental services.

With access to NHS dentistry now one of the top issues in MPs’ constituency postbags, the inquiry provides the opportunity for politicians on a cross party basis to map out a future for NHS dentistry which will secure better access, the ADG has said.

Neil Carmichael, chair of the ADG said: ‘Access to dentistry is going to be right at the top of the political agenda at the next general election.

‘Dental deserts stretch across the whole of the east of England from East Yorkshire, through Lincolnshire and down to Norfolk. But they have now emerged in many of the “red wall” constituencies that will form the battleground of the next election.

‘The Health and Social Care Select Committee is asking the two key questions – does the NHS dental contract need further reform, and what can be done to recruit and retain dental professionals.

‘We hope that their cross party work can provide sustainable solutions which will inform the manifestos of all political parties as we anticipate an election in 2024.’

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