The British Dental Association has slammed the moves by NHS England to try and return to business as usual, warning that the new 100% activity target - set to be imposed from 1 July - will offer no flexibility to the thousands of NHS practices struggling to 'live with Covid'.
A 95% target has been in force since 1 April, and the BDA understands delivery in the last quarter fell dramatically at the outset, a reflection of mounting workforce problems. The professional body believes these choices are driven by Treasury diktats, not by the data emerging from the frontline.
Covid infection rates are now at the highest levels since April, with widespread impact on workforce availability and patient cancellations. The most recent data published by the Office for National Statistics for the week ending 18 June, shows 1.7 million people across the UK were estimated to have had the virus – up 23% in a week, after a 43% jump the week before that.
While Infection, Prevention and Control guidance has been withdrawn, all practices are continuing to face burdens that lower their capacity, without corresponding support from government. The BDA stresses no other UK nation has adopted such an inflexible, punitive approach, which it believes will leave a growing number of NHS practices facing financial penalties for failure to hit targets, further destabilising an already fragile delivery model.
With the exodus from the NHS accelerating, dentist leaders have said there can be no delay in delivering meaningful reform to the NHS contract, supported by appropriate financial resources. The government is expected to introduce modest, marginal changes to the current discredited contract before parliament's summer recess, but formal negotiations on fundamental reform have yet to begin.
Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee said:
"From 1 July NHS dentists have to pretend they've returned to 'business as usual'. For thousands of struggling practices, nothing could be further from the truth.
"Imposing fanciful targets is easy for Ministers. The harder but necessary path demands real reform and fair funding."