As the Government announce new financial measures to improve dental care, we examine the reforms and the commentary from the relevant actors.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has today announced a new package of measures to improve patient access to dental care across the UK.
From today, NHS dentists will receive increased payments for delivering complex dental care to incentivise practices to take on high needs patients who require treatment the most.
Previously dentists would receive the same payments for all treatments delivered within band two, which includes fillings and tooth extractions, regardless of the amount of time taken to deliver the work. For example, they would receive the same payment for one filling as three fillings.
This meant dentists may not have been able to afford to take on patients who had not seen a dentist for an extended period who require more extensive treatment as a result.
On the new measures Health Minister, Neil O’Brien said:
“I am determined to make sure everybody seeking NHS dental care can receive it when they need it.
“Our new contract rewards dentists more fairly for taking on high needs patients and delivering treatments to those who need it most.
“It will not solve all the problems overnight, but it will help improve access and ensure the system supports dentists and their teams.
“This government is also introducing legislation which will provide the General Dental Council (GDC) with greater flexibility to amend its international registration processes for overseas qualified dentists. This will pave the way for additional exams places and enable the GDC to recognise and accept more qualifications for dentists and dental care professionals who want to work in the UK and support a reduction in unnecessary delays.”
Louise Ansari, national director of Healthwatch England welcomes the new package. She said:
“Thousands of people have spoken up about their struggles accessing an NHS dentist over the last few years, telling us about dental practices in many regions either closing down or not accepting new NHS patients. This announcement shows the power of their voices, with government listening and taking action.
“The changes should help people find clear and up to date information on dentists taking on new NHS patients. While people with more complex dental problems will find it easier to access care because of the shift in how the NHS pays dentists. Ultimately, we hope these combined measures will help to reduce long waiting times, the extended periods of pain many people suffer and prevent the extreme cases of DIY dentistry we have seen.
“These changes are a good start and when put into practice can help ensure dental care that is accessible and affordable to everyone who needs it.”
Call for change
The Government’s new measures are a necessary step to combat the declining dental standards and oral health seen across the UK. With more than 90 percent of NHS dental practices refusing to take on new patients, the British Dental Association (BDA) has urged the DHSC to act quickly.
Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the BDA’s general dental practice committee, said: “NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes.
“We’re seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic. The question now is will ministers step up before it’s too late?
“Nothing we’ve heard from Government to date gives us any confidence this service has a future. Without real reform and fair funding NHS dentistry will die, and our patients will pay the price.”
The shortage of dentists was attributed to an NHS contract which the BDA says funds care for barely half the population.
The new measures and increased funding for dental practices is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, indeed a necessary step given the worrying standards of dental care in the UK. The BDA and NHS England are welcoming of the measures, although with record waiting lists and crises across the NHS – we will have to see the results before rewarding the reforms as a triumph.