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NHS dentistry: PM must drop the spin and accept the facts

The government need to drop any pretence that NHS dentistry is on the road to recovery and to deliver a much-needed rescue package, alongside a pledge for reform of the contract.

Official data we've secured shows that just 23,577 dentists performed NHS work in the 2022/23 financial year, down 695 on the previous year, and over 1,100 down on numbers pre-pandemic. The crash brings figures to levels not seen since 2012.

We have repeatedly called out the Prime Ministers' claims that government reforms have boosted dentist numbers. We understand that several MPs have already sought correction of the official record, and there now at least seven instances where they now have a basis to proceed.

We are calling for real reform and a properly funded service, rather than the tinkering at the margins. The government needs to use the record-breaking underspends in the dental budget to bring a degree of sustainability to practices on the brink.

"Government needs to drop the spin, accept the facts, and provide a rescue package to keep this service afloat" says GDPC Chair Shawn Charlwood.

"We face an access crisis, and with hundreds of millions set to be pulled away, funds must be put to work solving these problems."

The money is already there. We estimated that funds returned by practices not hitting their contractual targets will likely exceed £400m this year, or over 10% of the total NHS budget. That's likely a very conservative estimate.

A higher minimum Unit of Dental Activity (UDA) value could bring all practices in line with areas with the strongest access levels, give them the chance to fill vacancies, support retention and operate more sustainably in the face of soaring costs – these costs could be kept within the anticipated levels of clawback for last year.

Wholesale reform remains the goal, but if the coming recovery plan is to have any meaning it must be ambitious and provide real support.

We will continue to hold the government to account and set the record straight and call for change.