Motions on the existential crisis in NHS dentistry took centre stage at this year’s local dental committees’ (LDCs) annual conference, amid 3,000 dentists who walked away from the NHS in England.
The urgent need for contract reform and funding NHS dentistry properly were among the 35 motions debated at the conference held in Newport, Wales, on June 10, and chaired by Dan Cook. 250 delegates attended, the majority in-person, with those unable to travel joining virtually.
In his update to conference Shawn Charlwood, GDPC chair, warned that NHS dentistry is in intensive care and the government needs to resuscitate it from catastrophic decline before it’s too late. He said, "I told Jeremy Hunt and his Health Select committee colleagues that I feared a slow death for this service.” He expressed his disappointment that, contrary to expectation Maria Caulfield, the minister for dentistry, did not attend, citing ‘urgent departmental business’. In her absence, Shawn presented a number of pressing questions he would have asked the Minister had she attended, including whether there is a future for NHS dentistry.
Delegates passed motions calling for dentistry to be ‘built back better’ following the pandemic, with contract reform that delivers for patients and the profession. Given the real terms cuts over the past decade, there was significant debate about the limits to what NHS dentistry can provide. A motion from ‘Red Wall’ Wakefield LDC urging NHS England to ensure that everyone can access an NHS dentist was passed. A motion from North Yorkshire on the need to engage patients and dental teams to increase pressure on the government to implement ‘immediate changes to the NHS dental contract” via an online petition was also passed.
Dental leaders also expressed their frustration over being side-lined by the new integrated care systems (ICS) because they are not represented on either the Integrated Care Board or the Integrated Care Partnership. For this reason, a motion from Manchester LDC expressing no confidence that local dental problems would be solved by the ICS, was passed.
Several motions highlighting a ‘recruitment and retention crisis’ of dental nurses, and calling for barriers to be removed, were also passed. These include one from Wirral LDC, which called on the government to recognise that the dental team is ‘part of the NHS’ and therefore should be offered NHS benefits, including the NHS pension scheme.
Andrew Dickenson, the new chief dental officer for Wales, joined the conference online from Germany. He discussed his priorities for the transformation of dental services in Wales and said these would focus on preventative care, and expanded team working. He said oral health evidence would drive improvement, taking into account population health and whole system change would be underpinned by contract reform.
The Conference heard from Alan Suggett, dental consultant UNW Chartered Accountants, on the financial realities dentists and practices are facing. This showed starkly how the national funding constraints have led to a real financial pressure for dentists.
Countering the growing frustrations with the NHS, a panel of four dentists held forth on the optimism they felt about various opportunities to diversify their incomes and careers. This prompted lively discussions on a wide range of ways in which dentists can take control over their own working lives.
Agi Tarnowski from West Sussex LDC was voted as chair-elect for the Annual Conference of LDCs 2024.
Mark Robotham, from Gwent LDC, Peter Tatton from Hertfordshire LDC and John Sheldon from the South West London LDC were honoured with the Unsung Hero Award.
Further information about the event, including the full list of motions carried, will be available on the dedicated LDC Conference website shortly.