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Access to NHS Dentistry

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2022

During the pandemic, we took unprecedented action to protect NHS dentistry capacity, providing over £1.7 billion of income protection. We also ensured that those who needed it most could access the available care by establishing 700 urgent care centres nationwide. NHS dentists are now returning to 100% of their contracted activity.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, but in West Dorset we are really struggling with dentist availability; at the moment there is no capacity for new patients, and the NHS appears to be incapable of solving the issue. Could my right hon. Friend tell me what he is doing to help restore dental services in West Dorset for those who need them?

My hon. Friend raises a very pertinent point. I recognise that there are significant challenges in NHS dentistry, including disparities across regions. Improving access for patients is a priority, and that is why just today the Government, together with NHS England, have announced a package of improvements to the NHS dental system, on which we have worked closely with the sector and the British Dental Association.

Having seen the former Minister for dentistry on numerous occasions, we were assured of today’s announcement to tackle the appalling lack of dentists in dental deserts such as my North Devon constituency. Can my right hon. Friend explain how the measures in today’s written ministerial statement will rapidly deliver extra dental appointments?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s campaigning on this issue; it is something she has highlighted on a number of occasions. The sorts of areas where the measures announced today will help include the management of NHS dental contracts, increasing the use of the skills mix in the dental workforce, and rewarding complex treatment to better reflect the complexity of that work.

There are 18,000 people on the NHS waiting list for dentistry in Plymouth; it is a real crisis. As a city, we have a cross-party plan for the new Cavell centre, a west end health hub as part of a health village in the city centre, with extra dental capacity with our brilliant dental school. However, we urgently need the Government to unlock the funding for it. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet a cross-party delegation from Plymouth to make the case for that, so that we can get on, get spades in the ground and get people’s teeth healed?

As part of the Government’s wider commitment to levelling up, we are very interesting in taking a place-based approach. Indeed, the essence of the integrated care boards is to help facilitate that. I am very happy to have discussions with colleagues across the House on how we best deliver that.

We all know that NHS dentistry was in crisis long before the pandemic. In my community, only a third of adults have seen an NHS dentist in the last two years, and fewer than half of children have seen a dentist in the last 12 months. It is obvious why: we have an ageing system—units of dental activity—based on a snapshot taken 15 years ago, which is completely unfit for purpose, as dentists and patients around the country are telling the Government. Will the Secretary of State listen to dentists and patients and reform the system urgently?

I hope the hon. Gentleman will look at today’s announcement, because it shows that the Department has listened. That is why, for example, it will facilitate better contract management, better reflect the floor price for units of dental activity and reward complex treatment, which was one of the key concerns. Equally, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that this Government, through the £1.7 billion of income protection during the pandemic, have done much to facilitate dentistry’s ability to bounce back.