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Industry engagement is vital to a long-term solution

Those working in the dental industry know better than anyone else the challenges facing Britain’s oral health. The sector is facing a unique set of challenges, with demand for treatment exacerbated by the pandemic and now higher than ever before. Access to NHS dentistry is a struggle many adults and children across London have experienced, and there is no doubt we must find a long-term solution which both engages with the industry and addresses the core issues – from funding, to recruitment, to the NHS contract.

From my background supporting vulnerable young people across London in children’s services, I know just how important giving every child a healthy start in life is. Maintaining children’s teeth and laying the foundations for good oral hygiene is a fundamental but often overlooked aspect of early year’s development, which can significantly impact on dental needs later in life. It is so important that young people and adults alike can access regular check-ups and receive dental treatment when they need it.

Many of you will be aware of the further package of measures set out by government this month to support the industry’s recovery from the pandemic, including steps to incentivise the provision of NHS treatment and a commitment to create a new stakeholder reference group for dentistry and oral health. This plan is supported with an additional £200 million of funding, on top of the £3 billion spent on dentistry each year1.

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Dentists will be offered incentives to take on more NHS patients, ‘golden hello’ cash incentives will encourage dentists to work in areas that are underserved, and new dental vans will be launching this year for underserved areas2. Mobile dental teams will go into schools to provide advice and deliver fluoride varnish treatments to more than 165,000 children, strengthening their teeth and preventing tooth decay, whilst family hubs will provide advice and support for pregnant mums. Dental undergraduate training places, meanwhile, will be expanded by 40% to more than 1,100 by 2031/32, whilst recruitment of dental therapists and other dental care professionals will also be increased3.

This recovery plan will create more than 2.5 million new appointments in the next year and allow around 1 million new patients access to treatment4. A very welcome first step, but for this investment to work politicians will have to work hand in hand with industry professionals to tackle problems head on. Dentistry has needed fundamental reform for several decades, and I know that many LDC members want to see further reforms of the NHS contract itself which addresses the discrepancies created by UDAs.

We believe that any future reforms to the NHS contract or dental treatment more broadly must have input from as many trade and industry bodies as possible to be successful in the long-term, so the steering group the government will establish for the sector to feed into directly is another encouraging step we are supportive of, and we will do what we can to make sure London has a voice within this.

The package set out by the Conservative government will deliver 300,000 more appointments than an alternative and uncosted plan set forward by HM’s opposition party. Success, however, will come only from working closely and listening to experts.

The dental sector needs clear, funded commitments that offer long-term certainty. My colleagues and I in the Conservative Group in the London Assembly look forward to reading the LDC Confederation’s upcoming manifesto, and I know from discussions with the LDC Confederation how committed its members are to supporting NHS dentistry in the long-term.

We are more than happy to work together as a group with the industry however we can, by raising ideas, feedback and making the case to government for further reform. By engaging with the industry and delivering on the government’s recovery plan, we can make good on the goal of improving access to NHS dentistry for all Londoners.

  1. ‘Dental Recovery Plan: Everything You Need to Know’, Department of Health and Social Care Media Centre, 7 February 2024: https://healthmedia.blog.gov.uk/2024/02/07/dental-recovery-plan-everything-you-need-to-know/ ↩︎
  2. ibid. ↩︎
  3. ibid. ↩︎
  4. ibid. ↩︎