The government has been criticised for its treatment of NHS dentistry, with the Labour opposition predicting ‘further neglect, decline and patients made to go without’.
The state of NHS dentistry was the subject of extensive discussion at yesterday’s Opposition Day Debate (9 January).
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting criticised the government’s ‘Dickensian’ approach to NHS dental services. He said: ‘Under the Tories, NHS dentistry is dying a slow death.’
Some of the problems cited included a lack of NHS dental access, rising levels of oral cancer and increasing reports of DIY dentistry. Ashley Dalton, MP for West Lancashire, said: ‘In 2024, it is easier to get your hands on Taylor Swift tickets than to get an NHS dental appointment.’
Wes Streeting emphasised Labour’s proposed solutions to the issues as announced in October. These include providing 700,000 more urgent appointments and recruiting more dental professionals in ‘dental deserts’. Also, reform of the dental contract and supervised toothbrushing in schools.
Labour also highlighted the fact that the government has yet to deliver a long-term recovery plan for NHS dentistry.
MP for Stockport Navendu Mishra said: ‘Why are the government being so shifty about this? Why will they not address this issue and tell us whether and when it will be published?’
‘Dentistry is a vital part of our NHS’
In response to the criticism, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins pointed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dental access. She said: ‘As we recover from the pandemic there are no quick fixes, but our recovery is well under way.’
The Health Secretary also emphasised the importance of NHS dentistry to the government: ‘Dentistry is a vital part of our NHS and improving dentistry is one of my top priorities. I am determined to fix these issues, and the other problems facing NHS dentistry, so that anyone who needs to can always see an NHS dentist, no matter where they live.’
The British Dental Association (BDA) has ‘lamented the lack of clarity from government’ during the debate.
BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: ‘Today, when we needed clarity, the government provided a full gamut of platitudes and half-truths. Ministers keep saying they want an NHS dentist for everyone. There is still no evidence of any plan to make that happen.’
A specific timeline for the publication of a dental recovery plan was not announced. However, Under-Secretary for Health Andrea Leadsom said: ‘I will change the line about when to expect it from “shortly” to “very shortly”.’
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