The debate was secured by Judith Cummins MP, our long-standing ally in Parliament and the Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dentistry and Oral Health, to which we provide secretariat.
Quoting our latest member survey, Ms Cummins stressed dentistry has reached a crisis point and urged the Minister to take immediate steps to protect dental practices and improve oral health outcomes. She called on the Government to step in and provide capital grants to help practices buy high-capacity ventilation equipment to reduce fallow time, saying it was "simply not good enough to say that dental practices must fund this for themselves" considering how badly hit they have been by the pandemic.
She acknowledged the protection NHS contract holders have enjoyed so far, but urged the Minister not to increase activity targets practices are subject to. She stressed that this would put them under impossible pressure. Speaking of the need to reform the dental contract she called for a dramatic change of approach from the Government, saying:
"Dental practices are facing an existential threat. (…) Units of dental activity have always been a poor way to measure meaningful dental health care. Their continued presence in the contract would be a disaster in the present circumstances. Despite the wider challenges the Government are facing, now is the right time to do this. Working with the BDA and others, Government must introduce a new contract that focuses on prevention, supports best patient care and improves access."
Ms Cummins also demanded action to bring down waits for secondary dental care, and investment in preventive oral health schemes like supervised toothbrushing.
MPs from both sides of the House raised issues with access to dentistry across the country and the need for increased prevention. Barry Gardiner MP echoed the calls for better support for dentistry and dental technicians. Rachael Maskell MP said she believed oral health had not been seen as an equal partner in the provision of healthcare and called for a change of this approach.
Jo Churchill MP, the Health Minister responsible for dentistry, expressed her gratitude to dentists and their teams for their hard work in this difficult period, paying tribute to both those dentists who continued to provide dental care and those who volunteered to be deployed on the frontline of COVID services during the first peak. She stressed the need to ensure that NHS dentists are financially supported as businesses, and acknowledged the challenges facing the private sector. Referring to her meeting with the BDA last week, she said she had heard our messages and was working with her officials on what can be done to help dentistry through the pandemic, including through testing and potential financing for ventilation equipment.
We continue to work with politicians and civil servants to raise the profile of dentistry in Parliament and to push issues that affect our members up the political agenda.