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Dentistry in an election year

Keeping the service in the spotlight on the road to polling day

Eddie Crouch
Eddie Crouch BDA Chair
BDA Chair Eddie Crouch addressing the 2024 British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show

Having accepted our invitation to join us at Conference, Labour’s Shadow Minister Preet Gill MP finished her speech calling on us to hold her to account just as fiercely as we have the current Government, should her party win power. 

She applauded us for the “fantastic work we do on behalf of our members” and pledged to grasp the crisis in the sector and work with us to rebuild NHS dentistry to make it fit for the future. 

It’s a testament to the cut through of our campaign work. We’ve been spelling out the facts to politicians: that our contract is broken, and our service is underfunded. That we simply can’t go on like this.

I’ve met with countless politicians. Regardless of the colour of their rosette, I’ve delivered that same message.

Dentistry has never been raised in Westminster so often since the birth of the NHS. MPs from both government and opposition benches are heeding our calls for real reform.

Dentistry on the ballot paper

Politicians report that dentistry has become one of the top issues that voters raise on the doorstep in an election year.

This is a genuine first, and unprecedent territory for us as a profession. There are votes to be won and lost on our agenda.

It has meant dozens of early mornings for me to appear on breakfast TV sofas, but I am happy to set my alarm for before dawn if it means I get the chance to stand up for our members and argue our case. And we’ve been relentless in doing that.

Ministers have kept trying to paint a rose-tinted picture of NHS dentistry.  A service that doesn’t exist. Where patients just have to log into NHS.uk to find dozens of practices ready and willing to offer care. When these claims are made, we set out the facts within minutes.

The gloves are off. We’re not going to let dentists be blamed for this crisis. This is a crisis made in Westminster, and it can only be solved in Westminster.

Underfunding and failed contracts are political choices, and they can be solved if politicians choose to.

We’re not alone here. Off the back of our evidence to the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee, they have set out what amounts to an instruction manual to save this service.

We made the argument, and now they share our vision, echoing our calls for the UDA to be replaced with a system that is prevention-focused and patient-centred. A service where dentists would choose to build a career.

Our team are ready to start those negotiations now. The ball is in this Government’s court, but this really shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

Millions need this service to have a future, and that will require real reform, not more tweaks at the margins.

It’s why I’m heartened to hear Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting MP commit to meet with us the Monday morning after the election, should his party take office. They better believe that we’ll be waiting outside the Department for Health bright and early for it.

But whatever colour the next government takes, we’ll hold it to account. Just as we have the current one.

We won’t let anyone off the hook if the crisis facing NHS dentistry is allowed to go unchecked.

A Recovery Plan not worthy of its title

I have taken no pleasure in ripping the Recovery Plan apart in the media, but our members needed real urgency and ambition.  

We have an NHS dental service not just on its knees, but face down in the mud.

Given the scale of the crisis facing the service, we were brutally honest with our verdict.  And that honesty was far removed from what we’ve seen from Government.

Ministers talked about a plan backed by £200m in new investment. We’ve made sure they had to correct the record.

They like to talk about how 500 more practices are now taking on new NHS patients. They are sidestepping the fact that they’ve just changed the definition of access from a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’,  to taking on new patients “when capacity allows”.

We have a promise of dental vans. These are facilities that are ideally suited for hard-to-reach populations like those experiencing homelessness, but which are not appropriate or cost effective for providing mainstream routine care.

It’s a move that seems to be motivated more by providing a nice photo op than actually solving this crisis.

There’s half a billion in clawback from struggling practices, and 12 million patients without an NHS dentist. This plan doesn’t even touch the sides.

We all know we need fundamental reform of this broken system. And we’re going to keep at it until we get there.

This is an election year. We are not partisan, but we are avowedly political. Our mission statement is quite simple: to defend the interests of our members, and to improve the oral health of the nation.

The recovery plan has failed on both counts.

Fighting your corner

For far too long Government has viewed NHS dentistry’s survival as inevitable. It’s not.

This country can’t have NHS dentistry without NHS dentists. And as long as dedicated colleagues find themselves delivering NHS care at a loss, and unable to deliver the kind of dentistry they were taught at dental school, the exodus will continue.

I’ve made it a strategic focus to ensure that we’re fighting for and meeting the needs of all our members, regardless of where you work or how you practise.

We are pushing hard to make the NHS a place any dentist would want to work, but we never forget about those who have chosen private practice, or are considering the move. With expert advice on all aspects of your business and dedicated events, we’ve got your back.

In hospitals across the country, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with our medical colleagues for pay restoration. In Scotland we’ve fought to secure significant reform to the payment framework. It not the end of the road, but it’s a major leap towards a fair and sustainable system.

Even as we push for wholesale change in England, we’ve secured fairer rewards for molar endo.

The split of band two we secured in 2022 earned practices an extra 1.5 million UDAs.

We’ve secured £14,000 in additional pay for senior hospital trainees, by renegotiating the pay scales.

High stakes

The simple message is, whether you are working in NHS, private or mixed practice. On the high street or in hospitals. We will be fighting your corner, as we’ve always done.

But this year – an election year – the stakes are higher.

I never expected to report that we’d be on track to have a quarter a million signatories to a petition to save NHS dentistry.

It was kick-started by an email from a hospital consultant in Liverpool Tom Thayer. He recorded the cases of near dental fatal sepsis in his hospital – the net result of access problems.

We’ve since found these problems are nationwide. That this crisis is very much a life-or-death issue.

The Prime Minister promised to ‘restore’ NHS dentistry.  Instead, we’re seeing scenes that have no place in a wealthy, 21st century nation.

Together we can and we must do better than this. And that’s what we keep fighting for, day in, day out.


Petition: Save NHS dentistry and make it fit for the 21st century

The Government's Recovery Plan doesn’t go anywhere near far enough and we are not going to stop in our fight for real reform. We have joined forces with the Daily Mirror and 38 Degrees to call for real change. Please sign our petition and ask as many patients and colleagues as possible to do the same.
On demand learning

Dental Recovery Plan: What it means for you

Access our on demand webinar, helping you to gain an understanding of the Dental Recovery Plan and what it means for dentists and practices. You'll also learn about the work we're continuing to do to campaign on the profession’s behalf.