NHS Dental Services

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons at on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the availability of NHS dental services.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

There are 6% more dentists doing NHS work than in 2010, and activity levels are going up. In March the number of patients seen over the past year was up by nearly a fifth on the year before. The initials reforms we have made to make NHS work more attractive are having positive effects but there is much more to do and we will be publishing a plan to improve access to dentistry.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

In York alone, practices are closing, turning private and handing back contracts. Units of dental activity are down 126,130 compared with four years ago and it can take five years to see a dentist. This is an unacceptable crisis after 13 years of complete failure. Will the Minister enable integrated care boards to have full flexibility to establish an under-18s NHS dental service in schools, along with a full elderly service and one for the most disadvantaged?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

We will look at all those things. We have introduced additional flexibilities, as the hon. Lady knows, and we are allowing dentists to do more to deliver 110% of their UDAs and bringing in minimum UDA values, but we are also interested in prevention and I would be happy to look particularly at what we can do for younger people.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Tooth care, like any other form of healthcare, should be universally accessible, but we know that we are facing a crisis across the UK, with one in five adults who could not get an appointment in the past 12 months carrying out dental work on themselves, or getting someone else to do it, which is quite horrifying. The problem is not confined to one part of the UK. In Scotland, 80% of dentists are no longer accepting new adult or child patients. We have a crisis across the UK, so will the Minister commit to introducing a national programme and to speaking to the Scottish and Welsh Governments to address the shortage of NHS dentists for all of us?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am happy to work with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. We are, as I said, driving up levels of delivery, and we will be publishing a plan to take that further.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

Like other colleagues, I have been approached by constituents who are struggling to find an NHS dentist because their previous dentist has either retired or converted to private practice. When the Minister presents his new dental plan, will it include a target to ensure registrations are available, as well as to increase the number of appointments?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend is right, and I am particularly seized of the issue of access for new patients.

Photo of Simon Fell Simon Fell Conservative, Barrow and Furness

My constituents in Dalton-in-Furness were dismayed to find out that their dentist has closed. This follows the closure of Bupa in Barrow and in Millom, and Avondale in Grange-over-Sands has handed back its NHS contracts. What was a bad situation has got very bad indeed. I am meeting the ICB next week to talk about what it might be able to do, but will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss what levers he can pull to improve dental access in Barrow and Furness?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, and we have already talked to some extent. The minimum UDA value that we introduced particularly helps rural and coastal areas of the kind he represents, and I am happy to talk further, and to go further, on all these things.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland)

As in the NHS, workforce is the biggest single issue. The Nuffield Trust has identified that, post-Brexit, dentists are among the key staff we are losing. On top of that, while Scotland and Wales have childhood dental health programmes, England does not. When will England have a national childhood dental health programme, and when will the contract in England be reformed to reward preventive work, rather than just dealing with emergencies?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

We passed legislation last month to make it easier for international dentists to come to the UK by reforming the General Dental Council to speed up the flow from abroad. The hon. Lady mentions an additional service that is available in Scotland. Of course, Scotland has 25% more funding per head than the rest of the UK, which is just one benefit of being in the UK, and it is one reason why people in Scotland voted to remain in the UK.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

The lack of NHS dentists is a major concern in north Staffordshire. Does the Minister agree that we should set up a dental school at Keele University, which already has one of the best medical schools in the country?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

We are looking at the dentist, hygienist and therapist workforces as part of the long-term NHS workforce plan. I can reveal that this is not the first time my hon. Friend has lobbied me on this idea, and I am sure he will continue to do so.