Dentists back free check-ups, and call for action on access crisis
17 November 2019
The BDA has welcomed pledges from the Labour Party to abolish charges for dental check-ups for adults in England, and called on all parties to support the workforce to improve patient access.
Scotland has operated free check-ups since 2006 and has significantly higher rates of participation in NHS services. 66.6% of adults in Scotland attend an NHS dentist every two years, compared to 50.2% in England.
The profession has been vocally critical of England's growing reliance on patient charge revenue. While the total funding for NHS dentistry has fallen since 2010 in cash terms, patients are paying an ever greater share of the total budget, thanks to declining state contributions and above-inflation charge increases.
The BDA has been calling on parties to extend and simplify exemptions for NHS patients, and has lead campaigns against the aggressive NHS fines system that has seen a collapse in attendance among those entitled to free care.
Dentist leaders have stressed that any policies to improve access need to be pursued in tandem with measures to meaningfully support the workforce.
Currently practitioners with the highest NHS commitments have the lowest morale. 75% of NHS practices are struggling to fill vacancies, rising to 84% among those doing the most NHS work.
The BDA is calling for wholesale reform of the widely discredited target-driven NHS contract and for workforce initiatives that have successfully addressed access issues for General Medical Practitioners to be urgently adapted for the service.
Workforce pressures have contributed to mounting access problems across England. Practice closures in Portsmouth have left patients facing ferry rides for NHS treatment, with families in parts of Cornwall facing 120-mile round trips to access care.
BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said:
"When you give patients a reason to avoid check-ups, they bottle up problems and pile huge pressure across our NHS.
"Sadly prevention is impossible when families on moderate incomes need to think twice about seeking care.
"Dentists are health professionals, not tax collectors. These charges are designed to discourage attendance, while providing cover for government cuts.
"However any plans to boost access must go hand in hand with support for a service facing serious recruitment problems. NHS dentistry cannot be delivered without NHS dentists."