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NHS Dentists: Children’s Access

Volume 638: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2018

Children’s oral health is better than it has ever been, and 72% of five-year-olds in England are now decay free. Of course, that means that 28% are not, which is why our Starting Well programme aims to increase access for young children in 13 high-need areas. NHS England is also looking at making similar approaches available in the areas of greatest genuine local need.

In Kirklees, 29% of under-five-year-olds have experience of tooth decay. Nationally, among five to nine-year-olds, tooth decay is the most common cause of hospital admission. Does the Minister agree that the system of penalising dentists for not hitting targets and not paying them when they exceed targets has led to a situation where there are virtually no NHS dentists available for my young constituents? What steps will he take to make more places available?

We are testing the new prevention-focused dental contract, which the hon. Lady knows about, to improve access and outcomes for NHS dental treatment. We have also made great progress on children’s oral health, as I have said. NHS England in her area is currently finalising arrangements for extra funding to support dentists in offering additional access and places. That funding will be available from 1 April, so she and other Members should stand by their phones.

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) is absolutely right about this particular issue. The Government have long acknowledged that there is a shortage of dentists in West Yorkshire, and in the Bradford district in particular, where the shortage is pretty chronic. Will the Minister set out what the Government are doing to ensure that there is an acceptable number of NHS dentists in the Bradford district?

I will not pre-empt what the NHS in Yorkshire and the Humber will say to my hon. Friend or to the hon. Lady, because this is a local decision, but I will say that the 13 Starting Well areas—the programme was a manifesto commitment for us—were selected nationally based on overall need and using a wide range of data including access to NHS dental services.

The Minister seems to be in denial. The British Dental Association reports that almost half of all NHS dentists are not accepting new patients—either adults or children. In several regions right across the country, from Yorkshire to Salisbury, patients are having to rely on the third world dental charity, Dentaid, with its now-famous wheelie bin dental surgeries. Does he think that that is an acceptable state of affairs? Will he outline what action he intends to take to improve access to NHS dentists?

It is interesting that the hon. Lady should raise this; it is one of the things that we might be discussing shortly. According to the GP patient survey for January to March last year, whose results were published later last year, 59% of the adults questioned had tried to get an NHS dental appointment in the past two years, and of those, 95% were successful. Those are not bad figures.