Government ‘pedalling myths’ on NHS dentistry, says association

22 March 2024

The British Dental Association (BDA) has criticised the government's ‘Recovery Plan’ following answers at the Health and Social Care Committee’s hearing on March 19, 2024.

The professional body said that Andrea Leadsom, under secretary of state in the Department of Health and Social Care, failed to adequately outline the modelling behind claims on ‘millions’ of new appointments the plan will generate.

She said, “It’s not an exact science,” that “it’s a complicated set of factors… with quite a high likelihood of not being reliable.”

The minister claimed the model was based on dentists’ views. A BDA poll shows three per cent think the plan will result in their practice seeing more NHS patients. Forty-three per cent think it will lead to their practice seeing fewer NHS patients. One in 100 believe it meets stated objectives to provide NHS dental care to ‘all who need it’.

Officials suggested the additional capacity would be based on recycling record underspends in the NHS dental budget. However, this is set to hit £450m, raising questions about why funding amounts to only £200m. Andrea stated she did not “want the underspend to exist anymore.”

The BDA has criticised the absence of new money in the plan. Andrea said the money is “‘new’ in the sense it was not going to be spent on dentistry.”

Andrea Leadsom also cited there is a workforce of over 60,000 dental therapists waiting in the wings. The real number is 6,198. The 240 dentists receiving golden hellos – described as “hugely beneficial” – are just one per cent of the NHS dentist workforce.

The minister said that NHS dentistry is free for pregnant women who often suffer oral health problems. Over a million new mums have lost access to care since the lockdown and have had no extension to their exemptions from NHS charges.

The professional body has criticised policies such as dental vans, which, while ideally suited for treating high-needs populations like the homeless. The BDA said delivering mainstream care in dental vans is not cost-effective, estimated at 2.5 times the cost of high-street practice.

The government must focus on making a decisive break from the NHS dental contract, stressed the BDA. It says this is fuelling workforce and access crises. The minister said she recognised the need for a fundamental break with the contract.

The minister flagged reform would be explored at a roundtable event on March 27, 2024.

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, who gave oral evidence, said, "As long as the government places pedalling myths ahead of delivering real change, we will keep seeing Victorian dentistry in this country. Today, we heard a long list of vague and inaccurate figures. Government has to stop spinning and rip up the rotten contract fuelling this crisis."

A DHSC spokesperson said, “Our recovery plan will create 2.5m 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.

“The plan is fully funded with £200m in 2024/25. This will support practices to deliver on their obligations and provide more NHS care for patients.”