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The Recovery Plan: The profession’s verdict

It’s not just too little, too late. This plan has stood in the way of real reform.

Shawn Charlwood
Shawn Charlwood GDPC Chair
Recovery Plan Blog 1000X847

It’s been a year since I was called to speak to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee.

That evidence produced a report that remains "an instruction manual to save NHS dentistry". But it also produced a desperate, 11th hour pledge of a rescue plan from the Government.

Twelve months on, and Ministers appear all too willing to skip over the Committee’s first and most fundamental step: ripping up a broken contract. 

And the plan? Well, I didn’t head to Westminster to give my opinions. I wanted to bring the perspective from the frontline.

Here’s my update:

A minority sport

Twelve months ago my main worry with the plan was timing.

Simply that with every day that passed, more colleagues would pare down their NHS commitment, or walk away entirely.

Now it’s landed, there really is little in it to bring this service back from the brink.

The sense of disappointment – and frankly, resentment – in the profession is profound.

In preparation for the session, we surveyed our members. We wanted their feedback on the plan. I was taken aback by just how brutal their verdict was.

Yes, check-ups are hard to come by. But it will prove far harder for Ministers to find a dentist who backs their outlandish claims.

The Government once told the Committee its objective is to provide NHS care to all who need it.

Well, we asked dentists if they thought the plan was capable of keeping that promise. 1% agreed. 1 in a 100. 

Just 3% said the measures in the plan would keep them providing NHS care long term. And most damningly, dentists don’t believe this will improve access for patients. Only 3% say the plan will result in their practice seeing more NHS patients.

Almost half believe it will do the exact opposite, and lead to their practice seeing fewer NHS patients.

Too little too late

We asked our members to sum up the plan in their own words.

We offered no prompts. What we got was something resembling catharsis. Cold fury from colleagues who have given up hope of change.  

I read the words "too little, too late" over 100 times. We counted the phrases used most often. They were, I quote, “Not fit for purpose”, “dishonest”, “inadequate”, “rubbish”, and a “joke”.

It’s a pretty good summary of what the profession makes of this plan.

Blog Recovery Plan Wordcloud

It feels to me that this plan was not designed to rescue NHS dentistry.

It was designed with the upcoming election in mind, to try and limit the political damage the access crisis is doing to their electoral prospects.

The measures in the plan make for a good press release, a nice photo op, or something for candidates to talk about when this issue inevitably comes up on the doorstep.

But this “Recovery Plan” is not worthy of the title. The fundamental perversity of this system remains unchanged.

One colleague commented that “you can’t fix a collapsed wall with Polyfilla”.

That’s precisely what the Government is attempting here.

you can’t fix a collapsed wall with Polyfilla

Schrodinger's Recovery Plan

The gap between the Government rhetoric and reality couldn’t be bigger. Millions of new appointments. £200m in new money. Colleagues have seen through it.

But at the Committee we saw the Minister and officials double down, with evasive and inaccurate answers.

Minister Andrea Leadsom went so far as to state “it’s not an exact science,” that “it’s a complicated set of factors… with quite a high likelihood of not being reliable.”

But hours later the Department of Health press officers issued a statement, stressing their modelling was 'robust'.

Welcome to Schrodinger's Recovery Plan. Both ‘unreliable’ and ‘robust’ at the very same time.

Equally budget can be both ‘new money’ and ‘recycled clawback’ without any hint of contradiction.

There have been too many word games over the funding of this plan. Minister Leadsom said the money – £200m, less than half expected underspends – is "‘new’ in the sense it was not going to be spent on dentistry.”

All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dentistry and Oral Health Chair Yasmin Qureshi MP has now reprimanded the Government for effectively misleading the House. We will have to see if Ministers are ready to correct the record.

It doesn’t end there. Reform we were told would be explored at a roundtable event on 27 March. We would receive an invitation at the close of the hearing.

This was high farce. But the results are tragedy for millions across this country.

Where next?

The road to this recovery plan has come at a cost.  For the last couple of years, while my colleagues and I continued to regularly meet with government officials, genuine negotiations on contract reform effectively halted.

We had marginal tweaks, but momentum for anything greater seeped away.

This process has not served the interests of this profession, or the public.  So that is why we have been busy away from the negotiating chamber.

In parallel, we have built a campaign, the size of which we never expected. Over 200,000 people have already signed up to back what we all needed when the Committee first reported: real reform, underpinned by fair funding.

The Prime Minister promised to "restore" NHS dentistry. Ads we’ve shared with millions online and off are spelling out the facts.

Posters are heading your way. Toolkits for every practice in England are in rapid development. We are planning action at national, regional and local level.

this crisis isn’t a postcode lottery anymore. It’s everywhere

Our 200,000 signatories have already helped. They’ve shared their stories. We know now is that this crisis isn’t a postcode lottery anymore. It’s everywhere. In every community you will now find DIY dentists. People in pain forced to make impossible choices. All the result of decisions made in Westminster.

Nothing in this plan makes NHS dentistry fit for the future. Quite the opposite. It risks sending the nation’s oral health back in time.

We’ve already taken our arguments to Westminster, to the front pages. We’re sharing the facts online and off. We are standing up alongside patients. And we won’t stop.

We need a fair deal for our members, and the millions we treat.