Go to content

Government pedalling myths on NHS dentistry

The British Dental Association has criticism the continued spin from Government on its so-called ‘recovery plan’ after evasive and inaccurate answers at today’s Health and Social Care Committee hearing.

Minister Andrea Leadsom failed to adequately outline the modelling behind claims on ‘millions’ of new appointments the plan will supposedly generate, which the BDA believes are a work of fiction.

She went so far to state “it’s not an exact science,” that “it’s a complicated set of factors… with quite a high likelihood of not being reliable.”

The Minister claimed the model was based on the views of dentists. A new BDA poll shows just 3% think the plan will result in their practice seeing more NHS patients. 43% think it will lead to their practice seeing fewer NHS patients. Just 1 in 100 believe it meets stated objectives to provide NHS dental care to ‘all who need it’.

Officials suggested the additional capacity would be based on recycling record underspends in the NHS dental budget. However, this is set to hit levels of £450m, raising questions why funding amounts to only £200m. The Minister stated she did not “want the underspend to exist anymore.”

The BDA has slammed the sophistry over the absence of new money in the plan. Minister Leadsom said the money – which is recycling budgets – is “‘new’ in the sense it was not going to be spent on dentistry.”

Andrea Leadsom also cited there is a workforce of over 60,000 dental therapists waiting in the wings. The real number is 6,198. The 240 dentists receiving golden hellos – described as “hugely beneficial” – are just 1% of the NHS dentist workforce.

The Minister cited that NHS dentistry is free for pregnant women who often suffer oral health problems. Over a million new mums lost access to care since lockdown, and have had no extension to their exemptions from NHS charges.

The professional body has criticised policies such as dental vans, which while ideally suited for treating high needs populations like the homeless appear geared towards giving government MPs lines to talk to on the doorstep at election time. Delivering mainstream care in dental vans is not cost effective, estimated at 2.5 times the cost of high street practice. 

The BDA stress Government must focus on making a decisive break from the discredited NHS dental contract, which is fuelling workforce and access crises. The Government has declined to explore fundamental reform. While the Minister said she recognised the need for a fundamental break with the contract, nothing is reflected in the Plan itself, and nothing she said gave any sense of urgency.

The Minister flagged reform would be explored at a roundtable event on the 27 March. The BDA was told at the end of the meeting by officials that it was invited, but invitations have not yet been sent.

Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, who gave oral evidence today, said:

"As long as Government place pedalling myths ahead of delivering real change, we will keep seeing Victorian dentistry in this country.

"Today we heard a long list of vague and inaccurate figures.

“Government has to stop spinning and rip up the rotten contract fuelling this crisis."