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​NHS dentistry: Ministers and officials try to defend the indefensible

The British Dental Association has urged the Health and Social Care Committee to set out a clear roadmap to reform for government, following evasive answers and poorly defined commitments to rescue the struggling service.

It has disputed data cited by Minister O’Brien on the supposed ‘recovery’ in NHS dentistry. The Minister repeatedly spoke of NHS activity rising by ‘a fifth’ in the last year. Dentist leaders stress this ‘growth’ is based on comparing 2021/22 figures with the depths activity fell to during the height of the pandemic.

Levels of activity are so low that in the last financial year over £400m of the service’s budget is expected to be clawed back. Contrary to claims from NHS England on contract, the BDA has seen official data suggesting just 75% of contracted UDA activity was delivered in the eleven months to the end of February. This compares with activity levels before that pandemic, which, the BDA understands, were normally well in excess of 95% of contracted levels.

The BDA said the government’s pledge to develop a recovery plan for dentistry just ahead of the evidence session as ‘reeking of desperation.’

British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“Witnesses tried to defend the indefensible, attempting to put a gloss on the government’s record.

“It won’t wash. NHS dentistry needs urgent reform, it’s got tweaks. It requires sustainable funding, instead we’ve got a charge hike that’s hit the patients who need us most.

“An exodus of dentists is still in motion, and millions remain unable to secure the care they need.

“The Committee can draw a line under this and set an urgent ‘to do list’ for government.”