We are committed to supporting all NHS dental services through the pandemic. NHS practices receive full funding for the first three quarters of the year, minus agreed deductions in England, and NHS dental contractors will continue to be supported while they meet reduced activity targets. NHS England and Public Health England continue to communicate regular updates, enabling practitioners to prioritise urgent care and reduce waiting times in what are challenging circumstances.
The British Dental Association has raised concerns that punitive financial penalties for not meeting the Government’s unrealistic activity targets are pushing NHS dentists in England to prioritise quick check-ups rather than catching up on the backlog of more time-consuming symptomatic cases. Will the Minister consider a more realistic approach to service recovery and commit to reforming the dental contract in England so as to promote preventive dental care in future?
As anybody will know, I have been heavily engaged with the dental profession over recent months, because I agree that a preventive approach to dentistry is certainly one that we need to be moving towards. The activity target is expected to increase availability for patients, who are the important part of the equation. It is important that we support the profession but enable patients to have access and reduce waiting times and backlogs. The target is based on careful modelling—on data—and takes into account guidance on infection prevention and control and social distancing measures. We recognise that there may be exceptional circumstances, which is why there are exceptions to the target level. NHS commissioners have the discretion to deal with exceptions and support dental practices. I have a meeting with everyone again on Thursday.