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Local Dental Provision

Volume 721: debated on Tuesday 1 November 2022

During the pandemic, we provided £1.7 billion to protect dental services. Now, through the improvements announced in the summer and our recent plan for patients, we will pay dentists more fairly and improve access for patients. We are enabling practices to deliver more activity than they are contracted to deliver—up to 110%—practices will have to keep their NHS website details updated, making them easier to find, and we are enabling dentists and their wider teams to work to their full scope of practice, improving access. The number of dentists doing NHS work increased by over 530 last year, but there is much more to do.

The Minister is aware that recent Local Government Association analysis showed that Bolsover has some of the worst dentist provision in the UK. That is highlighted by constituents to me daily. Whether it is getting access to treatment or even registering for an NHS practice, my constituents are struggling. Will the Minister take a look at that and meet me so we can discuss what more we can do for dentistry in Bolsover?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend has been a formidable campaigner on this issue. I know he met the Secretary of State to talk about it in the summer. It is a pleasure to have talked to him already and I am happy to meet with him further. Seven Derbyshire dental providers have been commissioned to deliver extra weekend activity to improve access this winter and, nationally, we are exploring how to incentivise dentists to work in areas where getting an NHS dentist is proving challenging.

Effective dental provision is essential not only for quality of life but for nutrition and confidence. Indeed, not being able to access it at important points in life is storing up more trouble for later, yet nine out of 10 dentists are not accepting NHS patients and, with the soaring cost of living, my constituents cannot afford dental treatment. What will the Minister say to them and do to address the millions who cannot get the dental treatment that they need?

The hon. Lady asks a powerful question. As well as the reforms that we started this summer and I announced in our plan for patients, as we start to think about the next dental contract, we are thinking about all the different things we can do to incentivise dentists to work in particularly poorer areas where there is difficulty accessing services. We are also working with the General Dental Council to review the processes that overseas dentists have to complete before they start to provide NHS care, which are sometimes more arduous than those for doctors. We are also thinking about the internal market of the UK and making it easier for dentists in Scotland to practise in England as well.

I welcome the shift in responsibility for NHS dental services in my area to my local Hampshire integrated care board. That will bring a real improvement by focusing on local priorities, rather than the previous regional approach. Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging ICBs to ensure that they adequately fund dental services, especially for elderly people and children? Dental health is as much of a priority as any other aspect of our health.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The shift to ICBs is right and it is an opportunity to integrate services in a way that has not been done before. She is right to stress the important preventive role that dentistry can play, which also reduces demand on other services, including accident and emergency.

A constituent of mine recently rang the national health contact centre about the possibility of an NHS dentist in Southampton and was told not only that no dentists in Southampton were taking on patients but that no one within 25 miles of Southampton was taking on patients either. What does the Minister have to say to my constituent, who has no prospect of a dentist now and no prospect of a dentist remotely in the future?

That is extremely concerning. This year, in NHS Hampshire and Isle of Wight ICB, there were 1,255 active dentists, compared with 1,248 the previous year. However, there is clearly an issue, which the hon. Gentleman was right to raise in the House. I am happy to talk to him more about that offline to ensure that we can solve that important problem.