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Calling for changes to NHS dental contracts

We are acutely aware of the difficulties being experienced across dentistry at the present time in delivering care in the face of the Omicron variant, and have once again raised these issues with NHS England and Health Minister Maria Caulfield.

Things are particularly challenging for NHS practices in England now tasked with attempting to deliver a new 85% contract target (90% for orthodontics). We condemned the NHS England decision to impose these new targets when they were announced at the end of last year.

The spread of the Omicron variant across society was already underway when these thresholds were set and the subsequent impact of the variant on the provision of healthcare, including dentistry, was entirely predictable. As anticipated, we are seeing a significant rise in staff absence, whether those staff are directly unwell with COVID, as a consequence of isolation requirements and/or an inability to access testing in a timely manner. In addition, we know that many patients are also cancelling at short notice given the prevalence of COVID-19. All of these factors are predictably having a significant and ongoing impact on practices’ ability to reach the NHS thresholds.

General Dental Practice Chair Shawn Charlwood wrote again yesterday to NHS England and we met with them this evening to reiterate our anger at the decision to persist with this unjustifiable approach and to seek a change of course. Shawn highlighted the immense damage being done to NHS dentistry and to a profession feeling battered and entirely unsupported. We have also written to Health Minister Maria Caulfield to set out our concerns on the same issue. We hope that NHS England will see sense and adopt a more sympathetic approach.

Next week, we will be surveying members about a range of issues, including your ability to deliver care in the current circumstances, and potential courses of action that we might take in relation to the future of NHS dentistry. The responses we receive will shape our dealings with NHS England. It is imperative that we get a clear indication of where the profession stands, so please look out for our survey next week.

In the meantime, we will continue to press NHS England and will keep you updated on any developments.