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Ministers access claims "misleading"

Welsh Government suggestions that recent reforms will generate 112,000 new appointments are a potentially misleading cover for the failure to invest in NHS dentistry.

Written Statement: Dental Contract Reform 2022-23

The changes to recall times will, in theory, result in healthier patients receiving fewer check-ups. But it could take a dozen healthy patients forfeiting annual check-ups to allow one new high-needs patient to be seen.

Welsh Chief Dental Officer, Andrew Dickenson, believes the move will enhance access: "By moving away from often unnecessary check-ups, dentists will have more time to provide people with the personal, tailored care they need and free up space to take on new NHS patients."

However, dentists working under NICE guidance already have the flexibility to extend recalls from three months to two years, where it is felt this will not harm patient wellbeing.

Dickenson insists that "The high quality of teeth that we're now starting to see means the patients probably don't have to be seen as often as they used to. Patients actually can look after themselves and therefore we have to question what are they getting out of every six-month appointments."

The problem is there are many areas of deprivation in Wales where the prevalent picture of oral health looks very different. The suspension of Designed to Smile for two years of the pandemic has not helped the underlying problems of caries in children within these communities. Lockdown has also resulted in many adults with poorer oral health.

As Russell Gidney, Chair of the British Dental Association's Welsh General Dental Practice Committee, has said: "Dentists have worked to NICE guidelines for the best part of two decades. The fact is it could take a dozen healthy patients forfeiting annual check-ups to allow one new high-needs patient to be seen."

"The Welsh Government is attempting to conjure up new appointments, without meaningful investment. Sadly, these claims look like they were cobbled together on the back of an envelope."

"Patients across Wales are facing an access crisis, while demoralised dentists are leaving the service in droves. These problems will not be solved with empty soundbites and misleading numbers."

To support patient access to NHS dentists, the Welsh Government are also aiming to recruit more dentists and dental staff, especially in rural areas. While we support these good intentions, it is difficult to see how this will be possible with no investment in NHS dentistry or changes to the budget. We are seeking clarity on how this will work in practice and the logic behind this claimed potential boost.

The BDA has long-supported GDS contract reform in Wales, but sadly we don't recognise this latest government move as part of any discussions currently being held in the dental public health-led stakeholder forum. Headline grabbing numbers do not reflect public health data and patient need. We will keep you updated as we continue to argue that NHS dentistry requires sustained investment to boost access and halt the workforce exodus.