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Funding boost for NHS dentistry is only part of the solution

NHS England has today pledged an extra £50 million for dentists to provide additional urgent care for NHS patients.

Funding will be available until the end of March and will be paid on a sessional basis.

These new funds represent much-needed progress, but this time-limited package can only be the start when it comes to rebuilding NHS Dentistry and tackling an unprecedented backlog.

For the NHS GDS, the stated focus is new urgent care capacity. An enhanced sessional rate will therefore be paid for care provided before or after core hours. For community dentists, the indication is that this funding will be used to buy additional sessions to help deal with the growing backlog. We are developing advice for members about payment arrangements for this work.

With practices already struggling to hit gruelling targets, the narrow timeline will limit what is achievable in the short term. Given major limits on capacity across both GDS and CDS and the difficulties bringing on new staff at short notice, we cannot be confident the full allocation can be used by the 1 April 2022 deadline.

But any additional funding offers some much-needed recognition of the challenges we all face, and this is the first new, albeit modest, investment in NHS dentistry in a generation.

“Any additional funding is long overdue recognition of the huge backlogs facing NHS dentistry” says General Dental Practice Committee Chair Shawn Charlwood.

“After a decade of cuts a cash-starved service risks being offered money that can’t be spent. Hard-pressed practices are working against the clock, and many will struggle to find capacity ahead of April for this investment to make a difference.

“Until today not a penny of the government’s multi-billion-pound catch-up programme had reached dentistry. This is progress but must be just the start if we are to rebuild a service millions depend on.”

NHS England have dubbed the new funding as supporting a “treatment blitz” that will prioritise dental patients with learning disabilities, autism or severe mental health problems.

"Any 'blitz' will clearly face practical barriers” added Charlotte Waite, Chair of the England Community Dental Services Committee, “but at the bare minimum we have a commitment that recognises the needs of England's most vulnerable patients.

“Well beyond 1 April we will need to see the resources and political will in place to meet them."

This funding announcement follows reports from the BBC of our warnings that the service is ‘hanging by a thread’, following the loss of the equivalent of 8% of dentist roles in 2021.

We continue to press for real reform of the discredited 2006 contract, alongside appropriate resources to underpin the recovery and rebuild of services.