England: MPs join our call for rapid contract reform
27 May 2021
We were pleased to see support from MPs for dentistry in two recent Parliamentary debates. Parliamentarians from both sides of the House added their voice to our calls for more support for dentistry, and a need to break with the discredited UDA system.
We continue to work behind the scenes lobbying politicians for their backing on issues which affect members. We have brought the alarming findings of our latest members’ survey to the attention of MPs from all parties, and as a result the current crisis in NHS dentistry was discussed in detail in the two Parliamentary debates on Tuesday 25 May.
MPs are backing our calls for a roadmap out of COVID restrictions and real reform of the NHS contract
MPs were almost unanimous in calling for rapid and meaningful contract reform, a roadmap out of current infection control measures, and condemning the new activity targets, with Members stressing their harmful impact on both the workforce and patients. In her response to both debates, Health Minister Jo Churchill MP thanked dental teams for their hard work throughout the pandemic. She said Public Health England was in the process of reviewing the current guidance on infection prevention and control in dental practices.
We welcome the fact that she restated her commitment to dental contract reform, stressing that it should “be designed in conjunction with, and be attractive to, the profession”.
In response to our evidence, and pressure from MPs, Ms Churchill also confirmed that she has asked officials to look how NHS England might be able to support to dental practices with capital funding to improve ventilation, although she warned it was “challenging”.
Urgent need for action
The first debate, secured by Labour MP Mohammad Yasin, saw MPs from both sides of the House stress to the Minister the urgent need for action on dentistry, with many quoting our survey results as proof of rock-bottom morale in the profession and a looming exodus of dentists from the NHS.
Other comments from the floor included:
“It is no exaggeration to say that the future of NHS dentistry hangs in the balance right now. We are sleepwalking into the biggest oral health crisis since the creation of the NHS. It is time the Government took responsibility and rescued UK dentistry before it is too late.”
Fleur Anderson MP
“The state of NHS England’s dental services can only be described as a scandal. Simply put, this is a service that is broken. The Government must not continue to treat dentistry and oral health as an afterthought.”
Clive Lewis MP
“There can be no more kicking the can down the road when it comes to contract reform. It is now a matter of urgency.”
Mohammad Yasin MP
“We must question at what cost – to both patients and the workforce – are dentists managing to meet these targets. If the extreme nature of the target in England drives dentists out of the NHS, access to dental services will be reduced permanently and it will be the patients who will in the long term pay the price for what in the short term might look like a policy that benefits them.”
Judith Cummins MP
Calls for more support for dental practices
Many MPs also called for more support for dental practices as they face the extraordinary challenge of tackling the backlog created by the pandemic, echoing our calls for capital funding for ventilation equipment to help bring down fallow time.
A few speakers demanded a clear road map out of the current high-intensity infection prevention and control measures, stressing how working for hours in heavy duty PPE was exhausting for dentists and not sustainable, including comments by the Shadow Health Minister:
“There has been far too much stick and never any carrot. I think it is time to recognise the contribution by working with the profession rather than against them.”
Alex Norris MP, Shadow Health Minister
“The time has come for a road map to release dentists from PPE and all the restrictions. We need a return to the pre-covid treatment of patients and we need SAGE to look at it and get on with it. That will be the biggest single action in enabling dentists to get this backlog into line.”
Sir Paul Beresford MP
The second debate focused on access issues in East Anglia, with Conservative MPs Peter Aldous and Duncan Baker highlighting the challenges with recruitment and retention in NHS dentistry, particularly in coastal areas like the ones they represent. Mr Aldous called for greater support for dental practices, including the abolition of the recently imposed activity targets, and capital funding for ventilation equipment. He stressed the need for immediate “root-and-branch reforms” of the dental system, and warned that “urgent action is required to stop dentists leaving the NHS in their droves”.
Dentistry must have a voice in decision-making
In both debates, MPs have cautioned that dentistry must not be an afterthought in the upcoming Health and Social Care Bill and asked for assurances any changes to commissioning arrangements would see dental budgets protected, and dentistry properly represented in the governance structures of the new commissioning bodies.
We will continue to keep you updated on our campaign for meaningful contract reform and greater support for practices as we emerge from the pandemic.