16 February 2024

Last week, the government published the NHS Dental Recovery Plan, which will deliver an extra 2.5m appointments over the next year. 

While all areas of the health service were affected by the pandemic, dentistry was among the most impacted given the need for proximity to patients by dental practitioners. Dental practices have a significant task to catch up with the backlog and many patients were unable to attend routine preventative appointments, so oral health of the population has declined. 

I know this is an area of concern in South Shropshire, with fewer practices offering NHS services, and practices not accepting new NHS patients. 

To work through this problem, the new NHS Dental Recovery Plan is backed by an extra £200m, on top of the £3bn currently spent each year, and includes a number of new measures to enhance the efficiency with which patients can be seen and to incentivise dentists to take on new patients and encourage more people to choose a career in dentistry.

Much like your GP, NHS dentistry services are provided by private dentists. The government is uplifting the standard payments dentists receive for treating NHS patients by 22% to £28 a session, and will pay dentists a bonus of up to £50 for each new patient they take on who has not seen a dentist for 2 years. 

In areas where there are no NHS dentistry services available, particularly in rural or deprived areas,  the government will incentivise new dentists with £20,000 golden hellos. There are also plans to roll out dental vans to the most in need rural and coastal areas to carry out emergency and routine work.

Taking a long-term view, the government is also steadily increasing the number of dentistry training places to reach 40% more a year by 2031/32 in the NHS Long Term Plan. It is the right thing to do, but clearly we will not feel the full benefits of this increased capacity in the system until the extra dentists qualify. 

Any issue of health tends to become a political football, especially so in a General Election year. But amidst criticism from the Opposition, it is worth noting Labour-run Wales has the worst access to dentistry in the UK, and their proposals in England – which include ordering teachers to supervise toothbrushing in schools – would deliver only a third of the additional appointments this government have promised. 

So I am pleased the government has taken both immediate steps to ramp up the number of appointments available, and long term planning to increase the dentistry workforce. I hope this will see local dentists in South Shropshire open up their books to new patients and offer increased services for those already registered.