I joined the Minister in thanking Dentists and their teams for helping to bring back dentistry services that had been so severely affected by the pandemic.
In reality, the problems with access to NHS dentist services existed long before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prior to 1990, virtually all UK dental care was NHS, with only about 500 purely private dentists, mostly working within London’s W1 postcode. Dental health was low. Access to dental health care was lower.
A greater professional understanding of the importance of prevention of oral diseases, compared to the historical surgical/activity-focussed model, combined with a new approach to clinical freedom for Dentists to practise privately, rather than being confined to limited NHS practises, vastly increased access to dental care in the early 1990s.
Changes brought in under Tony Blair and Labour in 2006 saw the imposition of the now universally vilified 'Units of Dental Activity' (UDA) system in England and Wales, which brought about a major exodus towards the private sector and crumbled the NHS dental sector.
The old NHS contract brought in under Thatcher and Major meant that dentists were paid for every item of treatment they provided: examination, filling, crown or denture. Under the new system brought in under Blair, they would be paid per course of treatment, irrespective of how many items are provided within it. As such, a course of treatment involving one filling (3 UDAs) attracts the same fee as one containing five fillings, a root treatment and an extraction (also 3 UDAs). This factor is behind much of the resentment against this system and caused the large-scale decrease in NHS Dentists.
Understanding this means we can appreciate that the crux of the problem is not a shortage of dentists but, rather, a problem with the contracts that enable dentists to take on NHS patients.
Dentists make this clear to me. It is overdue that this Government clear up the mess left over by the Labour Government over ten years ago. We acknowledge the enormous blow the pandemic dealt to an already struggling sector but it has brought attention to this severe problem and inspired many to desire change.
Constituents continue to share their own concerns, as do dentists who share in wanting to see fair and necessary access for all across Worthing and Arun.
Oral health must be a priority and those most in need of assistance are often resorting to desperate means.
Dentists locally have confidence that I share their concerns and worries about capacity and provisions locally. They know that I put the problems they face to the Government directly and press for urgent work to bring about the solutions needed to improve access to oral hygiene and health care locally.