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Dentists: Labour ‘Recovery Plan’ must spur action from government

With the Government yet to honour its pledge to publish a recovery plan for NHS dentistry, the British Dental Association has welcomed moves from the Labour Party to bring forward its own proposals.

The plan from the Labour leadership covers both short term and long-term measures for the service.

It commits to an immediate injection of £100m of funding to expand access to urgent care, with dentists working to a sessional rate. Uptake would not be time-limited and would be recurrent in every year of the next parliament. The professional body say this represents a workable version of the failed policy brought forward last year by the Government, where practices were expected to make use of £50m in funds in just over two months during the Omicron Wave. By the cut-off point of 1 April 2022, just £14.1m was spent.

On longer term plans, the BDA has been encouraged by agreement to move forward in dialogue with the profession on reform of the discredited NHS contract, and for rollout of a national supervised brushing scheme in early years settings. The Government has never taken forward pledges to consult on rollout of supervised brushing, despite its own modelling showing it could pay for itself, with £3.06 saved for every £1 spent in the medium term.

The Government pledged its own plan for the service in April 2023. Widely expected before summer recess, it remained unpublished as parliament broke for conference season. In July the Health and Social Care Committee concluded its damning inquiry, describing the state of the service as "unacceptable in the 21st century", and set out recommendations to government for real, urgent reform, alongside a call for any recovery plan to be underpinned by necessary funding. The Government’s response to the inquiry has been overdue since 14 September 2023.

The professional body has stressed its hope that the Government will now move forward on all these fronts. Unmet need for NHS dentistry has reached over 12m, or 1 in 4 of England’s adult population.

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

“We’re seeing patients in pain reach for pliers because of choices made in Westminster.

“These access problems are not inevitable, and giving dentists the time and the resources will make a real difference.

“Labour has recognised the scale of this crisis. NHS dentistry is hanging by a thread, and every party has a moral responsibility to set out a plan.”