NHS dentistry is at a tipping point and post covid recovery of services will depend on effective reform, with fair and sustainable funding for NHS dentistry. This was the clear message that emerged from dental leaders whether they be in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland when they spoke to delegates at this year's LDC conference.
Shawn Charlwood stressed that the UK Government needed to drop the spin, and accept the facts on the crisis facing NHS dentistry, citing the numerous misleading statements from the PM on workforce, funding and reform. He spelled out that while our team will seek to get the best deal possible out of active negotiations, we will also focus efforts on the coming General Election and securing commitments from all parties.
The current funding model is also not appropriate to sustain NHS dental practices, so said national BDA Scotland Director Charlotte Waite and the BDA chair of Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee Ciara Gallagher. They both agreed that stepping off the treadmill during covid, the profession does not want to return to the high volume/low margin model of the Statement of Dental Renumeration that applies in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
"Reflecting on the financial support in Scotland we had an emergency financial support package, then we had multiplier payments and now we are on a bridging payment which is a 1.1 multiplier," Charlotte said. "We were told this would end in April but following calls from us this has been extended until 31 October by which time we should have transitioned to the reformed payment system for primary care dental services," she added. "There is a commitment from Scottish Government to have the reformed payment system in place by 31 October."
Ciara stressed how practices cannot be expected to deliver NHS care at a financial loss. However with a shortfall of £732 million in the health budget for 2023, it will be even harder to get fees to cover surging costs.
And delegates heard from Russell Gidney how dentists in Wales are losing confidence in a reform programme that means many practices are choosing to return to the UDA.
It was no surprise that the motions passed by delegates reflected the existential threat to NHS services UK wide. We will be guided by them in the year ahead.
City of York MP Rachael Maskell – a member of Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee – offered grounds for optimism. She pledged that the inquiry into the crisis in dentistry would be published before summer. It will set out recommendations we will be pressing both government and opposition to sign up to.
Channelling NHS founder Nye Bevan, Rachael encouraged delegates to fight for the future of this service. "The NHS will last as long as there's folk with faith left to fight for it" she said.
Shawn Charlwood urged grassroots dentists to join us to press government for change.
"NHS dentistry's survival is not – and has never been - a forgone conclusion," he said.
"A health service cannot run on goodwill alone."