NHS recovery plan will not fix workforce or access issues, says association

07 February 2024

The British Dental Association (BDA) has said government failure to embrace fundamental reform of NHS dentistry risks condemning a generation to decay and widening oral health inequality.

The professional body says the Recovery Plan, published on February 7, 2024, will not ‘restore’ NHS dentistry or meet the government’s ambition to provide access to NHS dentistry for ‘all who need it’.

The plan sets up a ‘new patient premium’, which will give a bonus to dentists seeing a patient that hasn’t undergone treatment in two years - £15 to first see them, £50 if they need significant work done. It also raises the minimum Unit of Dental Activity (UDA) value from the current level of £25.33 to £28.

The professional body had made the case for the government to ensure dentists treating higher needs new patients that require more time in the chair do not end up providing NHS care at a financial loss. It warns that progress does not go far enough to stop dentists - who operate as contractors, not as NHS employees - from being forced to cover costs out of their own pockets, particularly for treatments like dentures or crowns that require laboratory work.

The association says there is no new money for this New Patient Premium. Factoring in late uplifts to contracts already promised by the government, the BDA estimates fewer than 900 of the approximately 8000 NHS contract holders in England are likely to benefit from the higher UDA rate.

The BDA stresses that the £200m in ‘new’ money pledged is less than half the underspends in the budget expected this year, the result of practices struggling to hit their punitive government targets.

In January 2024, the Department of Health and Social Care accounts revealed £2.899bn was spent on NHS dentistry. The BDA says in real terms this has translated into budget cuts of over £1bn since 2010.

The government has ruled out reform of the dental contract. The BDA described the package as amounting to “rearranging the deck chairs.”

With oral health inequality now widening, the BDA has also said that frontloaded investment in tried-and-tested schemes like supervised brushing are needed now.

The professional body announced that moving forward it will be working alongside the Daily Mirror and 38 Degrees to mobilise the public to push for real change. 

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said, “This ‘Recovery Plan’ is not worthy of the title. It won’t halt the exodus from the workforce or offer hope to millions struggling to access care.

“Nothing here meets government’s stated ambitions, or makes this service fit for the future.

“Ministers wanted to stop dentistry becoming an election issue. By rearranging the deckchairs they’ve achieved the exact opposite.

“The crisis will remain a burning issue in communities across this country until we get real change.”

Matthew McGregor, CEO at campaign 38 Degrees, which has joined forces with BDA and The Mirror to host the petition, said, “The public can see how NHS dentistry has been left to rot by the government. They’re disgusted to hear about people forced to pull out their own teeth, or fly to warzones for treatment - they can see the system isn’t working. 

“Dentists say the so-called rescue plan isn’t good enough, and we know the public will believe them rather than swallowing Rishi Sunak’s spin. 

“Our petition unites the public’s voice with the voice of dentists, in telling the Government to fix this toothless plan now. Anyone who cares about fixing our broken dentistry system and the nation’s teeth can sign now at https://38d.gs/SaveNHSDentistry.”