The British Dental Association (BDA) has urged Rishi Sunak to correct the record, after he offered a wholesale misrepresentation of the crisis facing NHS dentistry at Prime Minister's Questions on 11 January.
In response to questions on patient access from Lancaster and Fleetwood's Cat Smith MP, the Prime Minister claimed: 'as a result of the new reformed NHS dentistry contract there are now more NHS dentists across the UK with more funding making sure people can get the treatment they need'.
The BDA have stressed that not one of the PM's claims is accurate. Each of these claims was subsequently repeated in exchanges with Wakefield MP Simon Lightwood. The ongoing exodus from the NHS workforce saw 24,272 dentists perform NHS activity in England during 2021/22, lower than levels seen in 2017/18.
The BDA does not consider recent tweaks to the discredited NHS system as a 'new contract', given formal negotiations on substantive change have yet to begin. These minor changes - which had no new funding attached - are unlikely to increase access or improve workforce retention. The budget for dentistry has been subject to a decade of savage real terms cuts, and with inflation at record levels the BDA estimate it would take an extra £1.5 billion a year simply to restore resources to 2010 levels.
Last year the PM pledged to 'restore' NHS dentistry by ringfencing its funding, strengthening prevention and encouraging dentists to stay in the health service. He stated: 'my five-point plan will be activated on day one to free up dentistry professionals to do their jobs, encourage NHS trained dentists to stay in the NHS, and focus on prevention as that is always better than the cure'.
There is no evidence any element of the plan has been taken forward. Research undertaken by the BBC over last summer indicated nine out of ten practices in England are unable to take on new adult NHS patients. The Health and Social Care Committee is currently taking evidence for an inquiry into the access crisis.
BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said: 'The Prime Minister has offered a grotesque misrepresentation of a crisis facing millions. Our patients are living with the reality.
'The facts are there are no new dentists, no new contract and no new money. All we've seen are tweaks at the margins. We need honesty, ambition and investment to save a service on its last legs.'
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PM mythmaking on crisis in NHS dentistry. Br Dent J 234, 75 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-023-5478-5