General election 2024: the top talking points for dental professionals

Overwhelmed with the amount of information, opinions and debates surrounding the general election? We have pulled together some of the top talking points that dental professionals need to know.

With just one week to go until the UK hits the polling stations, it is the first time in almost five years that the nation will have its say.

And with the NHS dentistry crisis a regular feature among national headlines these last few years, it is no surprise it is a key topic for both the profession and the public.

Here, we list some of the stand out points regarding the general election, dentistry and its future – both inside and outside of the NHS:

Contract reform has been mentioned by some parties (but not all)

Whilst dentistry has appeared in multiple manifestos, not all parties chose to discuss the issue of contract reform.

Of those which have, here’s what was said:

  • The Conservative manifesto pledged to reform the NHS dental contract to ‘ensure its future sustainability’
  • The Green Party said it will push for a new contract for NHS dentists to ensure everyone who needs an NHS dentist has access to one
  • The Labour Party manifesto promised to reform the NHS dental contract in order to ‘rebuild dentistry for the long term’. This would focus on prevention and retaining NHS dentists
  • The Liberal Democrat manifesto stated that the party will bring dentists back to the NHS from the private sector by fixing the broken NHS dental contract and using flexible commissioning to meet patient needs.

NHS dentistry is a top priority for voters

A recent Yougov survey revealed that NHS dentistry is the top concern for voters, beating crime and education.

The survey, which was carried out on behalf of the British Dental Association (BDA), asked participants for the most important issues facing their local area at this time.

Nearly one third of respondents (28%) said local dentistry services, putting it higher than crime (24%), public transport (15%) and schools and education (11%).

And that’s not all. The respondents said dentistry is the least accessible NHS service, with 71% saying it’s difficult to access. This is compared to GPs (64%) and A&E (42%).

Dental professionals want more wellbeing support

Wellbeing and mental health tools are high on the agenda for dental professionals.

A survey found that 96% of the dental profession wanted political parties to include plans for health and wellbeing support for the dental workforce in their manifestos.

The survey of 282 dental professionals was conducted by the Dental Defence Union (DDU) in May 2024. Eight in 10 (80%) of the participants also said they feel negative about the future of NHS dentistry.

As a result, only 17% of the dental professionals said they always felt able to deliver optimal patient care. A further 56% said this was possible most of the time, but 21% felt that it was only possible for half of the time.

Many in the dental industry are also calling for bold action

It isn’t just dental professionals who want to see change. Nigel Jones, marketing director at Practice Plan, believes when it comes to NHS resource, the government should target those most in need.

‘I do not underestimate the challenge of appropriately reforming and funding NHS dentistry. If it were straightforward, it would have been done long ago, as the criticism of the dental contract in England, but lack of meaningful change, cannot be good for anyone’s credibility. 

‘Although we can consume significant time debating the minutiae, the Nuffield Trust’s policy briefing on The State of NHS Dentistry, published in December last year, concluded that restoring universal access would cost billions with much of it going to pay for care that people receive through private payments anyway. 

‘And therein lies the rub. Much of the current NHS dental budget is spent on the wrong people. People who, time and time again, as we at Practice Plan see with our support for practices converting from the NHS, are willing to pay privately to retain access to their trusted dentist.

‘Resources for NHS dentistry, limited out of necessity given the demands placed on the wider NHS, should be targeted at those most in need such as the under 18s and vulnerable adult groups like the working poor. Therefore, it is time for the new government to grasp the nettle and take, as the Nuffield Report puts it, “bold action” rather than attempt to maintain a policy of slow decay.’

The smoking ban was parked after the general election announcement

The Tobacco and Vapes bill was proposed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last year. Essentially, it would ban the next generation from buying cigarettes by making it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 in the UK.

However, whilst it was passed in April, the bill was still midway through the legislative process when Sunak announced the July election date.

As a result, the government had to decide which remaining bills would be rushed through before parliament dissolved.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill was dropped as it had not yet fully passed through the House of Commons and was still due to be introduced to the House of Lords. Sunak was reportedly ‘disappointed’ that the bill would not become written law ahead of the upcoming general election. In fact, if it wins, the Conservative Party has pledged to bring it forward in its first King’s Speech.

The next government is able to reintroduce it if it chooses to.

Public healthcare policies feature widely in party manifestos

Obesity, sugar, ultra-processed foods (UPFs), vaping – all are important public health concerns, with many being addressed in party manifestos.

For example, the Conservatives promise to legislate to restrict the advertising of products high in fat, salt and sugar. It has also pledged to gather new evidence on the impact of ultra-processed food to support people to make healthier choices.

Meanwhile, Labour said it would ban the advertising of junk food to children and the sale of high caffeine energy drinks to under 16s. It also backs policies that would stop the next generation from legally buying cigarettes, adding that it would ban vapes from being branded and advertised to appeal to children.

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