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Dentistry: Leeway on record breaking underspends won't be enough for hundreds of NHS practices

The British Dental Association has responded to news that NHS practices in England will be given some leeway from unprecedented underspends for the financial year 2022/23 that were set to take away more than 10% of the service's budget.

NHS England has stated it will not recover funds for under delivery of contractual targets at the expected tolerance level of 96%, instead working to a revised lower performance tolerance of 90%.

The professional body has been doggedly calling for NHS England to take action to support practices who are struggling to deliver their contractual commitments, often simply as a result of being unable to fill vacancies. In the spring it speculated that more than £400m was set to be lost from the frontline as a result of clawback, a figure that was looking increasingly like a conservative estimate.

Some practices may now have leeway as a result of this change, having only just missed their target. However, dentist leaders stress a large number of practices will still face very significant clawback for no fault of their own, and that total clawback will likely break all records. It has renewed its call for funds to be ringfenced and used creatively to underpin the government's pledged recovery plan for NHS dentistry.

This change only allows for activity to be carried over to the next financial year, it is not 'written off.' The BDA warn this will only store up problems for next year, particularly in the absence of needed reform to make the service sustainable. This is likely to be just a problem deferred for those many practices unable to significantly increase their activity this year.

Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee said:

"With record breaking sums set to be lost from the frontline, the government has moved the goalposts.

"It will come too late for the dentists that have already called time on NHS work. And it won't be enough for the hundreds about to be pushed to the brink. Ultimately this will only delay the inevitable for countless struggling practices.

"What we are yet to see is a willingness to put these funds to work, making NHS dentistry sustainable. That should form the basis of any credible rescue plan."