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Broken contract to undermine primary care integration

Today's announcement to bring forward the integration of primary care in England will be undermined from the start if the government fail to move forward on the fundamental reform of NHS dentistry.

A stocktake report, by Dr Claire Fuller on behalf of NHS England and NHS Improvement has indicated huge benefits for public health, through integration of dentistry with the wider health service.

The report cites the Connecting Care for Children (CC4C) partnership between hospital and community health providers, GP federations, PCNs, local authorities, charities, patients, and citizens in London. The partnership has succeeded in bringing together child health professionals and dental experts to improve children's oral health for the GP practice population. More than 35 CC4C systems have now been established across the UK. The new Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) will take on delegated responsibility for one or more pharmaceutical services, general ophthalmic services, and dental services by next April.

Dr Fuller has stressed the need for proper workforce planning and 'headspace' for practitioners. This week we warned the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee of the accelerating exodus of dentists from the NHS. Since the start of the pandemic thousands of dentists in England are understood to have moved away from NHS work entirely. New systems have the potential to improve integration, but the current discredited, underfunded contractual model will limit much-needed progress. After a decade of cuts, we estimate NHS dentistry would require an additional £880m per year simply to restore resources to 2010 levels.

The report stresses that all four branches of primary care must have a voice and leadership which is at the heart of both local and national NHS priorities and to be embedded across all systems. It is recommended that new boards should build strong relationships with Local Dental Committees and create structures through which all pillars of primary care will be able to advise them effectively. The boards should be underpinned by appropriate guidance, with a strong primary care voice playing an important role in the new system.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said: "The plans set out for integration across primary care are sound on paper, but the elephant in the room remains. New powers being passed to Integrated Care Boards will collide with the chaos built in to a failed, underfunded NHS contract. Progress on joining up the front line of the NHS could bring huge benefits to our patients. But Ministers need to ensure that real change is delivered before the last NHS dentist has left the building."