It’s great to see Assembly Members (AMs) continuing to back our call for investment to end the access crisis in Wales.
We’re clear 'warm words' won’t solve a crisis that’s left just one in six dental practices in Wales offering treatment to new adult patients. At a session earlier this month, Dai Lloyd AM asked a question in a Plenary session to the Finance Minister, making it clear that contract reform across Wales will remain stagnated without further investment. In response, Rebecca Williams AM, Minister for Finance and Trefnydd, acknowledged that dental investment was something of a hot topic in the Welsh Assembly, and stated that she was having ‘regular discussions’ with the health minister on both contract reform and investment in dentistry, she fell short of committing any further money. She did, however, state that as well as a further rollout of the reformed dental contract, they were now looking at ways to develop the commissioning of training numbers, training and education packages to develop the workforce and make the career more attractive.
This is to be welcomed. Suzy Davies AM also spoke and made the point that contract reform had been going on for three or four years and that if it were working as expected in a preventative sense, less central government spending should be needed than prior to the contract reform process.
This makes no sense as only 52% of the adult population are able to access NHS dentistry in a two year period. Therefore there is a huge amount of unmet need. Even if contract reform eventually increases access this will not be enough without further investment to meet the needs of everyone.
The Finance Minister replied that 42,000 more people were accessing NHS dentistry compared with five years ago, and there were now 60 more NHS dentists, so spending had actually had to increase to keep up and that this was a good thing.
The headcount of dentists says nothing about the proportion of time spent on NHS dentistry. These are not whole-time equivalent. Furthermore, these figures conveniently do not take into account population growth - the percentage of the adult population accessing dentistry has remained flat at 52% for a decade.
Furthermore, the government annual spend on dentistry, as a percentage of total healthcare, has steadily decreased from 3.4% in 2013 to 3% in 2018.
Finally, Mike Hedges AM praised the work of 'Gwên am Byth'/ 'A Lasting Smile' programme for older people living in care homes, which had recently seen its budget double so as to cover all care homes in Wales. The programme was running just over half of all care homes across Wales' seven health boards, but this extra money will mean all can now access oral health care provided by DCPs.
We are delighted that the Welsh Government has publicly stated that investment is needed elsewhere. We long been calling for a revolution in oral health in our care homes, and this is precisely what’s needed. The new investment could mean all care homes in Wales will be invited to join the programme this year and we've welcomed it, but we've said more still needs to be done.
Caroline Seddon, BDA Wales National Director
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