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Treasury hit the vulnerable and offer nothing to ease access crisis

The British Dental Association has condemned moves in the Autumn Statement that could withdraw free dental care from the long-term sick, while offering no additional resource to support the rebuild of NHS dentistry.

The professional body believes the threat to withdraw access to free NHS dentistry from those not actively seeking work will inevitably hit vulnerable patients with higher needs the hardest. Heavily briefed, dental care is thought to be among the “additional benefits” set to be lost alongside free prescriptions and legal aid.

The BDA believes the move will inevitably prove a repeat of the heavy- handed and ineffective approach taken to NHS fraud, which saw over £180 million in fines issued to innocent patients for ‘misclaiming’ free care that they were fully entitled to.

A recovery plan for NHS dentistry was pledged by the Government in April but remains undelivered. The lack of any dedicated funding in the statement suggests that when this plan is finally published it will lack the material resources to make any meaningful headway on the current access crisis or halt of the exodus of dentists from the service. As part of its damning inquiry into dentistry, the Health and Social Care Committee stressed any plan must have “the scope and ambition required to immediately address the crisis of access people across the country are experiencing. This should be accompanied by the necessary funding and a plan for swift implementation.”

The service’s budget has remained effectively static since 2010 at around £3 billion, which has translated into savage real-terms cuts. Many practices now face the prospect of delivering some NHS treatments, particularly those that require laboratory work like dentures or bridges, at a financial loss.

Neil O’Brien MP, the recently departed minister with responsibility for NHS dentistry, said just days after his resignation, “if such fiscal headroom is opening up, I hope the Chancellor will devote some of it to health - GPs and dentists could rapidly do more with some extra funds.”

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“The Chancellor offered no hope to the millions struggling to secure care. He failed to offer a penny to a service on the brink, just pulling away care from the patients who need us most.

“The Treasury will decide whether NHS dentistry has a future, but there’s no sign this government is willing to step up.”