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NHS Dentistry: Government needs to be honest on its ambitions, with universal access ‘gone’

The British Dental Association has said new analysis from the Nuffield Trust shows that the Government must be honest with the public and the dental profession over its plans for NHS dentistry.

The Trust highlight the dire picture facing NHS dentistry, and the preference from successive governments for “muddling through” over sound policy. It states that universal coverage to the service is effectively dead, and that options on the table may include rationing of care.

In her forward to the response to the Health and Social Care Committee’s damning inquiry published last week, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins stated the Government’s ambition that “NHS dentistry should be accessible and available for all those who need it.” The BDA has accused the Government of failing to offer any concrete plans in its response to achieve that goal, or even the more modest ambition of preserving what remains of the service.

In an open letter to the Health Secretary, dentist leaders say the Government now has a responsibility to meet words with action. It warns that Ministers have left no scope for any meaningful negotiations over a new contract for NHS dentists. The current discredited system of targets is driving severe recruitment and retention problems, and with it an unprecedented access crisis.

The Government also rejected the model of care endorsed by the Committee, that would break from targets, and provide a system that is prevention-focused and patient-centred. The BDA stress a version of the ‘capitation’ model was widely supported by patients by the profession and patients during piloting and is being rejected as a result of pressure to keep costs down. It believes that rebuilding the service and expanding access is impossible on a standstill budget.

The professional body understands a ‘recovery plan’ – first promised in April and still unpublished – has faced blockages at the Treasury. It says the Government must give demoralised dentists a reason to stay in the NHS.

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

“This report reads like the last rites for NHS dentistry, and patients and this profession deserve some honesty here.

“The Government say NHS dentistry should be accessible for all who need it. The plain facts are we’re not seeing any evidence of the reforms or the resources to realise that ambition.”