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​Ministers to Dentists: Keep NHS afloat out of your own pockets

The British Dental Association has said government has effectively told the profession it cannot afford NHS dentistry, as it prepares to impose an approach to pay that will leave a gaping hole in the service’s budget which practices across England will be expected to fill.

Despite having publicly accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendation of a pay increase of 6%, the Department of Health has refused to reflect the soaring operating costs of delivering NHS care. It is imposing a rock bottom uplift of 3.23% to cover expenses leaving a total uplift in NHS contract values of just 5.13%.

Based on survey data measuring the costs facing practices, the BDA estimate a total uplift of 8.3% would be required as a bare minimum, simply for the service to stand still with the promised 6% pay rise. The uplift leaves a gap of over £100m in the NHS budget that already struggling practices will have to plug out of their own pockets. The BDA say its warnings to Ministers that this will only accelerate the drive to the private sector - as practices endeavour to remain financially viable - have gone unheeded.

The professional body stress it will be effectively impossible for practices to pass on recommended pay increases to their teams, further escalating the chronic recruitment and retention problems in the sector, that are leaving millions unable to access care.

In its dialogue with government the BDA say officials categorically accepted that its figure of 3.23% is not based on hard evidence of the levels of costs facing practices, but simply reflects what the Government felt it could afford. In a break from its usual model of using CPI inflation to establish the costs of delivering NHS dentistry – which would have generated an uplift of 8.7% - the Department chose another measure – the GDP deflator – which appears a cynical measure designed purely to keep costs down.

Dentist leaders say this approach risks fatally undermining the forthcoming ‘recovery plan’ for NHS dentistry, expected for imminent publication. In July the Health and Social Care Committee described 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 the coming recovery plan to be underpinned by necessary funding.

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

“If Government can't afford NHS dentistry, dentists can't be expected to prop it up out of their own pockets.

“This penny pinching will derail the promised 'recovery plan'. It’s an insult that will force practices to increase private work simply to stay afloat.”