Following Jeremy Hunt's emergency statement on the public finances, the British Dental Association has warned any further cuts risk destroying any prospect of saving NHS dentistry in England.
In an open letter to the new Chancellor, the professional body has stressed that without meaningful investment a reform process looks doomed from the outset, and that any further 'efficiency savings' will critically undermine existing dental providers and further erode access to the public.
Formal negotiations are yet to begin on reforming the discredited NHS contract dentists in England work to that is fuelling the current access crisis. The system puts government targets ahead of patient care, and caps spending to cover barely half the population. Minor 'tweaks' to the contract announced before the summer recess will do nothing to improve access, or halt the exodus of dentists from the NHS and had no additional funding attached.
The BDA has long pressed for a decisive break from this failed contract, recently dubbed by Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee as 'not fit for purpose', underpinned by sustainable investment. It warns that the government's objectives to improve access and boost retention simply cannot be achieved within the historic financial constraints set by the Treasury. Dentist leaders warn another period of austerity will leave the service at risk of collapse. The BDA estimates it would take an extra £880m a year simply to restore resources back to 2010 levels.
In his former role as chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Jeremy Hunt had been a leading advocate of reform in dentistry, and a fully funded workforce plan for the NHS.
BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:
"Without fair funding for NHS dentistry, there was little scope to do more than rearrange the deckchairs as the ship goes down. New cuts will only speed that process along.
"Since the financial crash, dentists have faced cuts with no parallel anywhere in the NHS. There is simply no more fat to trim, short of denying access to an even greater proportion of the population.
"We never imagined we would need to defend the wholly inadequate resources currently offered to us. But it seems we must. However, the stark reality remains that sustainable investment is urgently required if we are going to bring this service back from the brink.
"In his former role, the Chancellor recognised the scale of this crisis. NHS dentistry is already on the critical list. Any further cuts will kill the patient."