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What is the Future of NHS Dentistry?


On Tuesday 9th January 2024, Labour’s Wes Streeting held the Government to account for its role in the rundown of NHS Dentistry contracting. 

The British Dental Association demanded ’Deeds, Not Words’ as MPs gathered in the House of Commons to debate an Opposition motion on rescuing NHS Dentistry.

There were certainly plenty of ’words’ from the few MPs who bothered to attend.  The number sitting on the government benches ebbed and flowed from around five or six to give or take twenty as MPs came and went.  349 Conservative MPs would have been aware of the debate taking place, many had doubtless been urged to do so by dentists responding to the BDA’s call. Sadly, 299 managed to vote the motion down.

For three and a half hours the chamber heard the usual stories, claims and counter-claims. 

One in ten people have attempted DIY dentistry, patients thrown off lists without being notified, practices closed to new patients, to children, constituents pulling their own teeth with pliers, constituents having to make sixty mile round trips, dental extractions driving thousands of children to hospital and A&E departments seeing people at quadruple the cost to the taxpayer of a dental practice doing so.  And so it went on. And on.

"A service that once was there for all of us when we needed it is now almost gone for good" fulminated Streeting.  

Party political point scoring was never far away.  When Conservative MP for Totnes Anthony Magnall attempted to blame Labour for the 2006 Dental Contract, the Shadow Health Secretary boxed him straight back into his seat with accusations of ’scraping the barrel’.  

"How has the hon. Gentleman got the brass neck to stand up, after 14 years of his party in government, and say that a contract agreed in 2006 is the problem? If only the Conservatives had been in government for 14 years to sort it out".

Time and again Mr Streeting and his Labour colleagues defaulted to the Party’s script to deliver ’700,000 urgent appointments’, ’supervised tooth brushing of 3 - 5 year olds’, ’boost training’ and ’recruit overseas workers’ to bolster the workforce in the short and medium turn.  All costed, to be funded by taxing the income of ’non-doms’.  And much of it no doubt likely to be in the soon-to-be-published ’Dental Recovery Plan’. 

Who was going to deliver an additional 700,000 urgent NHS appointments?  How would clinicians be paid?   Mr Streeting did not, would not say, even when pressured by Health Secretary Victoria Atkins.  

To groans of derision from the opposition benches, Mrs Atkins, in her reply to Mr Streeting,  sought to lay most of the blame for the crisis on the Covid pandemic and claimed that the government had ’invested’ £1.7BN into the service to keep it alive even though it was unable to see patients during lockdowns.

The Dental Recovery Plan was announced in April 2023.  When would it be published? MP’s demanded.  With a smile on her face, Atkins teased the Commons saying  " ’Shortly’ is a little shorter than in ’due course’ and a little longer than ’imminently’ ". Recovery was "well underway" Mrs Atkins declared.  The pandemic had lost seven million appointments but in 2022 the government had taken "far reaching reforms" (!) to improve the contract to ensure dentists were fairly rewarded for undertaking lengthier courses of treatment. 

’Faster, Simpler , Fairer’ was Mrs Atkins’ motto for the NHS, including dentistry.

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