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Dentists to get ‘cash for new patients’ under plans to boost services

Health officials are to publish a “dental recovery plan” for NHS dentistry (PA)
Health officials are to publish a “dental recovery plan” for NHS dentistry (PA)

Dentists are to get cash for new patients under plans to boost dentistry across England.

Around a million people who have not seen a dentist for two or more years are expected to benefit as officials offer a “new patient payment” of £15 to £50.

The plans, which are expected to boost dental appointments across the country by 2.5 million next year, will also see patients able to view which local dentists are accepting new NHS patients at the touch of a button.

On Monday and Tuesday, hundreds of people were seen queuing in Bristol after an dentist opened up its books for NHS patients.

A video posted on social media on Monday appears to show police community support officers telling patients the queue had “finished” as they urged prospective patients try their luck another day.

Dentists will be paid more for their NHS work under the NHS Dental Recovery Plan.

Officials also hope to incentivise 240 dentists to work in communities where there is less access with one-off so-called “golden hello” payments of £20,000 for working in “under-served” areas for up to three years.

And NHS England said that “dental vans” would be rolled out in rural and coastal areas so people in the most isolated communities will still be able to access help.

Under the plans, set out by NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care, people will be able to use the NHS app to see which practices in their local area are accepting new patients.

Access to NHS dentistry has been one of the main concerns highlighted to Healthwatch England.

People have told the patient champion organisation that they have struggled to find up-to-date information about practices taking on new NHS patients.

Healthwatch said that as a result patients have lived with ongoing pain and in extreme cases, patients have resorted to “DIY dentistry” such as pulling out their own teeth.

The Government also announced plans to roll out a “Smile for Life” programme to give advice to new and prospective parents.

Ministers will also launch a consultation on a potential water fluoridation programme to help prevent tooth decay.

The dental recovery plan was to be launched on Wednesday but many of the details were accidentally leaked after health officials sent an early version of the dental recovery plan to MPs of all parties on Tuesday afternoon.

But leading dentists said the plan will not be enough to help people struggling to access dental care.

Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: “This recovery plan is not worthy of the title. It won’t halt the exodus from the workforce or offer hope to millions struggling to access care.

“Nothing here meets Government’s stated ambitions, or makes this service fit for the future.

“Ministers wanted to stop dentistry becoming an election issue. By rearranging the deckchairs they’ve achieved the exact opposite.

“The crisis will remain a burning issue in communities across this country until we get real change.”

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “The health service will now introduce a wide range of practical measures to help make it easier for people to see a dentist, from incentivising dentists to take on new patients to supporting dentists to be part of the NHS in areas where access is challenging.

“Recovering dentistry is a priority for the NHS and this plan is a significant step towards transforming NHS dental services for the better.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insists services are improving (Liam McBurney/PA)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “NHS dentistry was hit hard by the pandemic and while services are improving – with 23% more treatments delivered last year compared to the previous year – we know that for too many people, accessing a dentist isn’t as easy as it should be.

“That’s why we’re taking action today to boost the number of NHS dentists, help cut waiting lists and put NHS dentistry on a sustainable footing for the long-term.

“Backed by £200 million, this new recovery plan will deliver millions more NHS dental appointments and provide easier and faster access to care for people right across the country.”

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “After 14 years of Conservative neglect, patients are desperately queuing around the block to see a dentist, literally pulling their own teeth out, and tooth decay is the number one reason for six to 10-year-olds being admitted to hospital.

“The Conservatives are only promising to do something about it now there’s an election coming. It will be left to the next Labour government to rescue NHS dentistry and get patients seen on time once again.”

Louise Ansari, chief executive at Healthwatch England, added: “Across England, we have seen major access issues in NHS dentistry. The dentistry recovery plan is a good start in addressing these serious problems.

“However, in the long run more radical solutions are needed to get NHS dentistry back on track.”