“NHS dentistry should be accessible and available for all those who need it” claims the new Health Secretary Victoria Atkins.
A laudable goal, but the plain facts are we are yet to see any evidence of the reforms or the resources to realise that ambition.
2023 was the year we saw the return of sights not seen in England for a generation. Queues outside practices. Mass closures at corporate giant BUPA. Hard won gains on oral health heading into reverse.
Against this backdrop the House of Commons Health Committee completed its inquiry into NHS dentistry. Armed with evidence from our members, it set out proposals for urgent and fundamental change to ensure this service can have a future.
The Government’s response – some three months overdue – saw the Health Secretary stress she was “fundamentally aligned” to this ambition of access for all. But the gulf between words and actions has never looked wider. Here’s what she had to say:
Skipping the main course
Where the Committee backed fundamental contract reform, the Government’s equivocal response is: “partially accept.”
The Health Committee offered a coherent plan to fix NHS dentistry, but the Department of Health appear to have viewed it as an a la carte menu. The Secretary of State seemed content to pass on the main course: a decisive break from a failed NHS contract.
The current access crisis is a workforce crisis, and without action to fix what’s fuelling the exodus from this service, any real progress will remain impossible. It’s a view shared by the Committee, and its chair Steve Brine MP, a former minister for dentistry, who stressed “steps taken will still not go far enough.”
When I gave oral evidence to the inquiry, I warned Ministers were yet to move beyond rearranging the deckchairs. So we are back in live (but glacial) negotiations with NHS England on further ‘tweaks’, that cannot and will not deliver on the Government’s headline goal.
The UDA remains the elephant in the room, but it’s not even up for debate.