NHS dental recovery plan – experts respond

The profession responds to the dental recovery plan

Key figures in the UK dental profession have shared their thoughts on the recently-released NHS dental recovery plan.

The government’s long-awaited recovery plan for NHS dentistry was released yesterday (7 February) to a mixed response from the dental profession.

The report promises measures such as a one-off £20,000 for dentists to work in under-served areas, an increase in the minimum UDA value and a water fluoridation programme.

While some dental professionals feel that the plan offers ‘steps in the right direction’ for NHS dentistry, others expressed concern that ‘more needs to be done’.

Dentistry.co.uk heard from a number of experts in the profession on the potential impact of the recovery plan.

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee

This ‘recovery plan’ is not worthy of the title. It won’t halt the exodus from the workforce or offer hope to millions struggling to access care. Nothing here meets government’s stated ambitions, or makes this service fit for the future.

Ministers wanted to stop dentistry becoming an election issue. By rearranging the deckchairs they’ve achieved the exact opposite. The crisis will remain a burning issue in communities across this country until we get real change.

Catherine Rutland, dentist and clinical director at Denplan

The state of dentistry in Britain and scale of dental deserts has been a growing issue over the last few years. The initiatives suggested in today’s Dental Recovery Plan offer a glimpse of hope for the future – but only if introduced as part of wider policy changes.

We can’t offer dentists more money for NHS patients while ignoring essential reforms to the dental contract so they can better treat the patients they have. The ability to offer a mixed NHS and private model would enable better support for both patients and professionals.

Commitment to teach nursery pupils to avoid tooth decay is important to embed those early habits. However, we must also consider how we support parents with wider oral health habits, including dietary considerations, education and regular dental visits.

This is a promising first step but more needs to be done – for our children, society, and our dental teams, many of whom are mentally and financially affected by the challenges facing the sector.

Abhi Pal, president of the College of General Dentistry

The government has today set out a range of initiatives intended to help tackle some of the many longstanding problems facing NHS dental provision in England. These include some potentially positive new initiatives, which we welcome, alongside previously made announcements.

However, while some further positive changes to the dental contract are anticipated later this year, the Dental Recovery Plan does not represent the more fundamental contract reform which is required. Nor will the additional £210m in funding behind the plan, welcome as it is, restore universal access to NHS dental care.

We welcome the proposed Smile For Life programme, with its focus on intervening early to prevent oral diseases in children. Tooth decay remains the leading cause of hospital admission for six- to 10-year-olds in England, and a preventive approach has the potential to reduce the need for restorative treatment. However, we wait to see whether sufficient resources will be invested for the programme to be a success.

‘Enable the delivery of more care and make NHS dentistry more attractive’

We are already looking forward to the expansion in the number of dental school places available for dentistry and dental hygiene students, and to the implementation of medicines exemptions for dental hygienists and therapists. Greater recognition and use of the full range of skills of all team members will enable the delivery of more care and make NHS dentistry more attractive to dental professionals. We also look forward to further proposals which empower the wider dental team when the next set of contractual changes are consulted upon.

We also recognise that an increase in the minimum UDA value will support a small number of practices to continue delivering NHS dental care. And we support the intent to introduce community water fluoridation in areas of high need as this has the potential to reduce the prevalence of oral diseases and the need for invasive interventions.

Finally, while dental practices struggle to recruit and many patients struggle to access care, there are many dental professionals who have qualified and practised overseas and who could be providing care here in the UK, but are unable to do so due to the waiting lists for the Overseas Registration Exams. So we welcome the possibility of provisional registration, and await the detail with interest.

Charlotte Eckhardt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) at the Royal College of Surgeons of England

The nation’s oral health, and particularly that of children, is not in a great way. We know that this is due in part to problems accessing NHS dentists. NHS England’s plan, and the funding behind it, should go some way to tackling the growing inequalities in oral health and the current crisis of access.

As dental surgeons, who deal with some of the most severe problems, we are pleased to see measures in the plan that will help reduce tooth decay. These include roll-out of a new Smile for Life programme to offer families advice for baby gums and milk teeth, the potential introduction of a water fluoridation programme across the North East, and dental vans to reach underserved communities.

It is also good to see efforts to make NHS dental work more attractive to dental teams, and plans to attract more NHS dentists. However, it will take some time to recruit the numbers of NHS dentists we really need. Therefore, getting the message on prevention out there is key. Good oral hygiene starts with regularly brushing teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, visiting the dentist, and cutting down on the sugary foods that can lead to decay.

Bas Vorsteveld, vice president and general manager for Great Britain and Ireland at Haleon

Across the country we know that dentistry is under pressure and the this is having a major impact on the oral health of the nation. Latest figures show that one in five people have avoided visiting the dentist due to cost, more than double the same time last year. Today’s news of the UK Government’s Dental Recovery Plan marks an important moment in attempts to reverse that trend and build a more inclusive and accessible NHS dental service.

At Haleon, we know that to truly tackle the major crises we face in the UK’s oral health we need to redouble our efforts on prevention. I’m pleased to see some steps in the Recovery Plan, such as the new Smile for Life’ programme, which aims to tackle that. Focusing here is the way to sustainably improve oral health in the country and move pressure off oral health professionals.

We at Haleon are proud to continue to provide support and resources to dental health professionals in the UK. Although the impacts of the funding and initiatives may take some time to be felt, these are steps in the right direction with a long-term view. We are looking forward to seeing the roll out of the new Dental Recovery Plan and further steps needed to improve the oral health of the nation.

What are your thoughts on the recovery plan? Email [email protected].

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