Go to content

NHS Dentistry: After promise of dental vans, government exploring ‘non-van solutions’

The British Dental Association is dumbstruck after government, having promised a fleet of dental vans to ease the access crisis in rural England, has launched a pre-procurement exercise for ‘non-van solutions’.

The document recognises the “limited availability” of both dental vans and the workforce to man them, and asks third parties to explore “other options such as (but not limited to), the provision of non-van solutions, including the use of local facilities for pop-up services.”

The document states “we are keen to think creatively on how we can best support this target population.” The BDA is unclear if pop-up services would meet Care Quality Commission standards.

This is the latest blow for the Government’s ‘Recovery Plan’, that the BDA said was ‘unworthy of the title’. Last month the Secretary of State had to correct the official record after informing parliament that the Plan was funded by £200m in ‘new’ money. It is entirely funded by recycling underspends in the service’s £3bn budget, which has barely increased in a decade. The Government has tried claiming that 500 practices are now taking on new patients as a result of this package. The reality is officials have just changed the definition of ‘access’.

Previously practices would answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether they were taking new patients. They are now showing if they can take new patients ‘when availability allows’.

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.

A recent poll of dentists in England by the BDA showed just 3% think the plan will result in their practice seeing more NHS patients. 43% believe the plan will actually lead to their practice seeing fewer NHS patients. Only 1% of respondents believe the plan is capable of meeting the government’s stated objective to provide NHS dental care to ‘all who need it’.

British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“Every MP who boasted to constituents about these vans is going to have to wait on what ‘non-van solutions’ this Government can come up with.

“This is pure farce. The Prime Minister pledged to restore NHS dentistry. The reality is a plan with no new money, no ambition, and now there aren’t even any vans.”