We have written to the Department of Health ahead of the Government’s response to a House of Lords Select Committee Report on the Long-term Sustainability of the NHS.
In our letter to the Department of Health we stressed that while we understand that reports like this have to take a ‘whole system’ approach, this should not mean that the different ways of working within the NHS are ignored.
Specifically, we made it clear that it is unacceptable for reports like this, as well as government and other bodies, to continue to misleadingly talk of the ‘free-at-the-point-of-use NHS’, as this perpetuates confusion around dental services which are, as we all know, not free at the point of use for most patients. We argued that if the House of Lords is of the opinion that a ‘free-at-the-point-of-use’ NHS is the ‘most appropriate model’ then it should be extended to include dental services as the rationale for patient charges has been removed and the probable increase in access would lead to long term savings for the whole NHS, not to mention freeing up the time of GP colleagues. We have asked the Department of Health to consider either removing patient charge revenue from dental services or to stop sending out inaccurate and confusing messages about the ‘free-at-the-point-of-use NHS’.
As well as making our concerns about terminology and mixed messaging clear, we stressed the importance of non-time limited contracts for primary dental care. The report’s focus was on concerns about short-termism in the NHS and the difficulties this creates. We welcomed this conclusion and explained that it was this focus on the short-term that could undermine the provision of dental services when contracts are issued under short-term and time-limited contracts. We urged the Government to review the impact of time-limited contracts on competition in relation to primary care dental services and sought a commitment that there will be no extension of the use of time limited contracts to existing primary care dental services.
Additionally, we welcomed the report’s recommendation for increased integration of health and care services but stressed the need for financial assistance in general dentistry if this is to be a reality. We urged caution in the reform of regulation, mentioned our ongoing engagement with the GDC, and recommended that any changes proposed, such as merging regulators must only be done with the full engagement of the professions affected. We have also suggested that the Department of Health recommend to the Care Quality Commission that domiciliary providers are rated against their access to dental services to help address oral health issues for those in care homes. We also argued that increased resources need to be made available for dental services in London to cope with the growing population and different health needs of Londoners.
We are awaiting a response to our letter and the Government’s response to the House of Lord’s report and will make both of these available once received.