Dentistry: Access for Cancer Patients

Part of Antimicrobial Resistance – in Westminster Hall at 5:11 pm on 17 April 2024.

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Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 5:11, 17 April 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Western for securing this important debate.

As someone who has lost family members and friends to cancer, I frequently come to this place to try to shine a light on the huge problems in our health service, which disproportionately impact people with cancer and their families. Dentistry is no exception. Like many colleagues, I have been contacted by constituents, in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale, because they are unable to find an NHS dentist. There are more than 100,000 people living in my constituency, but only seven dental surgeries, and at least three of those are not accepting any new adult patients. A constituent without a dentist contacted me and said: “I am desperate for an NHS dental repair. I now have an abscess in my jaw. Please help me”. That case is one of many. The response I received from NHS England advised my constituents to call 111 for any urgent care services and said that it is

“working to address the challenges facing the service right now”.

The challenges in our dental system are exacerbated for people in our communities living with cancer. The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce states that 90,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with one of the less survivable cancers every year, which is an average of nearly 250 every day. People with less survivable cancers are twice as likely as people with a more survivable cancer not to be diagnosed until symptoms are severe enough for them to go to hospital. I personally know that that is far too long. Some 80% of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at stages 3 and 4.

People with cancer need fast and effective dental services in a system that recognises the difficulties they will face during their treatment. Dentists also play a huge part in detecting, diagnosing and managing oral cancers, which kill more than 3,000 people a year in the UK. Unlike the less survivable cancers, oral cancers have a survival rate of 90% when diagnosed early, as Richard Foord said, so it is crucial that dentistry can be accessed quickly and treatment is free for those people.

Both those issues come down to one main problem: money. Over the past decade, dental charges have increased by 45%, and last year YouGov found that nearly a quarter of respondents to its survey in England about dentistry delayed or went without dental treatment because they just could not afford it.

There are hidden costs in cancer care, such as increasing energy bills and the cost of frequent travel to and from hospital, and the burden of rising dental costs is too great for people with cancer. Although I think that it is a great idea to introduce free dental treatment for all cancer patients, we need to think bigger. We must reform the NHS and make it fit for the future.

There are two huge problems facing our health service—a crisis in both cancer care and NHS dentistry—with waiting lists for both at record highs. As a nurse, it breaks my heart to say that the NHS has never been in a worse state. The last Labour Government delivered the shortest waiting times and the highest level of patient satisfaction in history, because we invested properly in our NHS. It is high time that we did so again.