‘NHS dentistry requires real change’, says health commission

05 February 2024

The British Dental Association (BDA) has welcomed the Times Health Commission’s call on the government to break from the contract, which it says is fuelling the crisis in NHS dentistry.

The expert group – chaired by The Times columnist Rachel Sylvester and supported by a distinguished team of 18 commissioners with successful backgrounds in business, medicine, science, sport and policy – was set up in January 2023 to take a long, hard look at the NHS and social care system. It aimed to consider the future of healthcare in the light of the pandemic, the opportunities presented by new technology, the ageing population, workforce pressures, an obesity crisis and growing health inequalities.

This year-long project concludes that “fundamental reform of the NHS dental contract is required to prioritise prevention and improve access.” It backs the call of the Common’s Health Committee for a decisive break from UDAs.

Cited within the report, BDA chair Eddie Crouch observed that perverse incentives were pushing the system to breaking point. He said, “The patients that need the treatment the most, sadly, are the ones that are least welcome. Their treatment will cost you more money to provide than the NHS is prepared to pay you. So, you become a charity.”

The commission backs the capitation model the BDA and the Committee endorse, where dentists are given a fee for each patient on their list, which would encourage them to focus on preventing disease rather than just treating problems once they arise.

The Daily Mirror has also recently endorsed this position as part of its ongoing ‘Dentists for All’ campaign.

The commission highlighted that Ukrainian refugees and British nationals are seeking dental care in the war-torn nation as a result of ongoing access problems here. Data from the ‘Economist Health Inclusivity Index’ suggests the UK lags behind both Ukraine and Rwanda in terms of timely access to dental care.

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, who gave evidence to the Commission, said, “The Times Health Commission brought together some of the nation’s biggest thinkers. Their clear conclusion: that NHS dentistry requires real change. You can count on one hand those clinging on to a failed status quo. The tragedy for our patients is that these people work at the Department of Health, the Treasury and Downing Street.”