Access to NHS Dentists

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:03 pm on 12th September 2017.

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Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 11:03 pm, 12th September 2017

Yes, there should be a package, and I will come on to mention one or two of those points. This is as much about self-care as it is about interaction with the dental profession.

To conclude the point I was making, at a regional level in the period to 30 June, the north of England saw the highest percentage of patients seen—56.8% of adults and 63% of children. Although these access numbers are encouraging, I know that the hon. Member for Bradford South will not be sitting there thinking, “That’s all okay, then.” I know that more needs to be done to reduce the remaining inequalities in access, including in areas such as Bradford South, which she represents, and NHS England is committed to improving the commissioning of primary care dentistry within the overall vision of the five year forward view.

There are a number of national and local initiatives in place or being developed that aim to increase access to NHS dentistry. Nationally, the Government remain committed to introducing the new NHS dental contract, which the hon. Lady rightly referred to often in her speech. It is absolutely crucial to improve the oral health of the population and increase access to NHS dentistry.

A new way of delivering care and paying dentists is being trialled in 75 high street dental practices. At the heart of the new approach is a prevention-focused clinical pathway. It includes offering patients oral health assessments and advice on diet and good oral hygiene, with follow-up appointments where necessary to provide preventive measures, such as fluoride varnish, that can help the prevention agenda. Importantly, and this is of most relevance in this debate, the new approach also aims to increase patient access by paying dentists for the number of patients cared for—let me restate that: cared for—not just for treatment delivered, as per the current NHS dental contract. Subject to the successful evaluation of the prototypes, decisions will be taken on wider adoption. The prototypes are being evaluated against a number of success criteria, but let me be clear that they will have to prove that they can increase dental access before we consider rolling them out as a new dental contract.

I appreciate that this is taking a long time. It is as frustrating for me as it is for right hon. and hon. Members and for the profession, but Members will understand that rolling out a new dental contract is complicated and complex. We have to make sure that it is right and that what we put in place is better than what was there before.