Go to content

NHS Dentistry sees biggest fall in budget in decades

With millions struggling to access care, Government spending on NHS dentistry has seen the biggest annual cut in decades, according to accounts set before parliament today.

The Department of Health and Social Care report and annual accounts 2022/23 shows that £2.899bn was spent on NHS dentistry - levels seen when the Coalition first took power. This has translated into savage cuts, with the budget falling by over a third in real terms since 2010 – a real cut of £1bn.

The professional body says this is a result of both a decade of austerity and recent ‘underspends’ in the dental budget. This is not because of any lack of demand for NHS dentistry, but simply reflect struggling practices unable to hit their targets. While the Government has promised a recovery plan for the service, there are no clear signs it will offer the reform or needed investment to ease the current recruitment and retention crisis, which is fuelling current access problems.

Dentist leaders stress that if the coming plan comes without new funding it will lack credibility, especially given Government’s stated ambition to provide access to NHS dentistry to all who need it.

The Prime Minister and Health Secretary have repeatedly boasted about the service’s £3bn budget. However, no attempt has been made to keep pace with inflation and population growth, meaning savage real terms cuts over the last decade. OECD data from prior to COVID demonstrated that of all European nations, the UK spent the smallest share of its health budget on dentistry.

Despite the PM pledging to “restore” NHS dentistry in his first run for the leadership and protect the dental budget, NHS England has given Integrated Care Boards license to raid these underspends to plug huge deficits. The BDA understands the service is on track for similar levels of underspends in this financial year.

British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“Ministers need to explain why – when desperate patients are pulling out their own teeth – they’ve let funding for NHS dentistry fall off a cliff.

“Promised ring fences have been torn down around a budget that’d already been cut to the bone.

“The PM promised to ‘restore’ NHS dentistry. Instead, he’s taking it back in time.”