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Dentists: Government must stop misrepresenting its ‘modest proposal’

The British Dental Association has slammed Government’s attempts to misrepresent the investment it is set to offer NHS dentistry.

The £200m is less than half the size of record-breaking underspends we saw last year and expect again this year. This is the result of practices struggling to hit their targets, not any lack of demand. The BDA understand underspends are expected to hit between £400-500m in the last financial year and are on track for similar levels in 2023/24.

These underspends are being raided by Integrated Care Boards to plug deficits. The BDA has yet to see concrete commitments that any of this package is based on ‘new’ money, as opposed to ‘recycled’ underspends. The published plan is opaque on whether there is any new investment, and makes no reference to the supposed £200m ‘boost’, with only a passing reference to ‘new funding’ in a forward by interim Chief Dental Officer, Jason Wong. 

The BDA does not accept official assurances that promised protections on the budget are stronger than ever, stressing the ‘ringfence’ remains pure semantics.

The BDA notes that the golden hellos scheme is a poor relation to Scottish schemes that provide £25,000 to new dentists working in rural areas over two years, as opposed to plans to offer dentists in England £20,000 over three.

The New Patient Premium is not new money and is simply recycling existing contract value, meaning any new patients seen as a result of this initiative will come at the expense of existing patients being able to get an appointment.

Recent Department of Health accounts show the budget has remained frozen at around £3bn for over a decade, meaning real cuts of £1bn since 2010.The BDA reiterates the plan is incapable of meeting the Government’s stated objectives, to provide access to care for all who need NHS dentistry.

The modelling underpinning the Government’s claims on ‘millions’ of new appointments has not been published. The BDA feels the claims lack credibility and is struggling to see how the whole package delivers more appointments, when most of the funding is drawn from recycling existing budgets. There is nothing in the plan to draw dentists back into NHS services to enhance workforce capacity.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“There are towns across this country where any new practice opening would see a repeat of scenes we saw in Bristol.

“The police might want to thank the Government that budgets are so tight we won’t be seeing many grand openings any time soon.

“The Government really need to be honest about how modest their proposal is.

“This 'new' money is a drop in the ocean for a service cut to the bone.

“Creative accounting might make for a nice headline, but not decent health policy.”