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Future of NHS dentistry up in the air if service is left to decline with the Tories, warns Labour

The Probe, 8th March 2024

Preet Kaur Gill, Labour’s Shadow Primary Care Minister, and Eddie Crouch, Chair of the British Dental Association, recently visited students at the University of Birmingham Dental Hospital and School of Dentistry to listen to their views about the future of the service.

The crisis in NHS dentistry is well-documented, with 8 out of 10 practices no longer accepting new adult patients, and more than 1 in 4 adults unable to access a dentist last year. The crisis has meant many have resorted to pulling their own teeth out, with 1 in 10 people having attempted some kind of ‘DIY dentistry’. 

Preet Kaur Gill and Eddie Crouch’s visit to the dental hospital comes after the Government announced a set of measures to tackle NHS dentistry, which the Government’s own chief dental officer has suggested won’t fix the current crisis. The BDA have also dubbed the so-called ‘Recovery Plan’ as unworthy of the title. 

While NHS dentistry faces an immediate emergency, it also faces an existential crisis. Practices have been reporting significant issues with recruiting new NHS dentists. They have highlighted that the current dental contract disincentivises dentists from seeing new NHS patients, especially those with more complex needs. Practices unable to meet their targets have their funding clawed back, meaning frontline dentistry is missing out and NHS dentists are leaving to the private sector in their droves. 

The Conservatives have promised to reform the dental contract for 14 years, but their announcement hasn’t promised any reform this side of a general election.  

Labour has said it is serious about fixing the long-term crisis in NHS dentistry by reforming the dental contract. In government, Labour has said it will meet with the BDA right away to start the critical work on reworking the contract. 

Labour will also grip the immediate crisis in NHS dentistry, offering 700,000 urgent appointments a year, a targeted recruitment scheme for areas most in need, and a national supervised toothbrushing scheme for 3 to 5 year olds.  

Preet Kaur Gill MP said: “I know how hard dentists work, I know how skilled the profession is, and I know how valuable an NHS dentist is to a community. We can see the consequences now when communities don’t have NHS dentistry: children whose teeth hurt so much they are struggling to eat, thousands of children who are too self-conscious to smile, and deaths from oral cancers rocketing since 2010.

“After 14 years, the Tories still haven’t got round to reforming the dental contract, and it didn’t appear in their so-called ‘Recovery Plan’. We can’t trust them to introduce the crucial change we need for a secure service in the long term. Labour is serious about contract reform. We will fix the immediate crisis in NHS dentistry as well as reform the service in the long term.”    

British Dental Association Eddie Crouch said: “The horror stories are true, and an ever-growing number of dental students are giving up on NHS dentistry before they’ve even graduated. If this service is going to have a future it needs to be a place the next generation of dentists would choose to build a career. These undergrads need to know that underfunding and failed contracts aren’t inevitable. That they have a chance to provide quality care to millions.” 

Tiya Raithatha, 4th year student at the University of Birmingham School of Dentistry, said: “We all came here to the dental school with serving the public at the fronts of our minds. They’re patients, not customers, and our first priority is to help them. I’m increasingly worried that we won’t be able to do that. I hope the next government can deliver urgent change so my colleagues and I can work in the NHS and do right by our patients.”

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