The British Dental Association (BDA) has urged the government to act on the mounting problems in NHS dental services, following recent election gains which saw the Conservatives take control of an overwhelming majority of England’s worst access hotspots.
In an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock following today’s Queen Speech, the BDA has urged the government to factor in dentistry as it presses ahead to put its NHS plan into law: recognising both mounting recruitment and retention problems, and the service’s unique status as the only part of the NHS family operating on a lower budget than that received in 2010.
Breaching the so-called ‘Red Wall’ in the Midlands and North of England has seen the Conservative Party make headway in areas with acute access problems, including areas like Dewsbury in West Yorkshire where residents routinely receive support from the charity Dentaid: this charity normally operates in the developing world.
In the 50 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) reporting the highest number of patients who have tried and failed to secure an appointment, the Government gained 10 seats, leaving nearly two thirds (64.2%) of constituencies (149 constituencies in total) represented by Conservative MPs.
Areas with among the deepest access problems also include West Suffolk CCG, home to both Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the Minister responsible for dentistry Jo Churchill, where over 10,000 tried and failed to secure care. Further hotspots include seats represented by Trade Secretary Liz Truss (West Norfolk and South Norfolk CCGs where over 20,000 patients have failed to secure care), Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG, where nearly 40,000 have been affected) and numerous mid-ranking and junior ministers in other parts of the country.
This access data comes from analysis of the Government’s GP Survey undertaken during the election, which revealed that across England over 1.4 million adults are estimated to have tried and failed to secure an appointment. Unmet need for services stands at over 4 million when factoring in those on waiting lists, those put off by treatment costs, and over 2 million who did not believe they would be able to secure an appointment.
Dentists’ leaders are urging the Government to commit to a sustainable funding settlement for NHS dental services and halt the decline in state contributions that has seen a growing reliance on patient charge revenue. They have also called for renewed impetus to reform the discredited target-driven NHS contract system that caps patient numbers and has devastated morale in the workforce.
BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: “Dentistry cannot be the missing piece in the government’s NHS plan.
“As the only part of the NHS operating on a lower budget than it received in 2010, dentistry faces an existential crisis. Morale in this service is at rock bottom, and as recruitment and retention problems mount, millions of patients are left unable to secure care or have simply given up trying.
“Following the election, the Conservative Party now represents the overwhelming majority of communities that are being failed by NHS dentistry.
“From Cornwall to Cumbria, from Devon to Dewsbury this government, and this parliament, have a responsibility to deliver for these patients and provide the reform and investment the service urgently needs.”