Rishi Sunak has said plans to boost dentistry across England will be part of a wider effort to cut NHS waiting lists, as he faced criticism from opposition parties over the latest figures.
An estimated 7.60 million treatments were waiting to be carried out in England at the end of December, relating to 6.37 million patients, down slightly from 7.61 million treatments and 6.39 million patients at the end of November.
The Prime Minister, who visited a dental practice in Cornwall on Thursday, pointed to the impact of plans that will see dentists offered cash to take on new patients and given £20,000 “golden hellos” to work in under-served communities.
He told broadcasters: “We want to make it as easy as possible and the new funding that we’ve announced will, I think, make a significant difference and soon. This is going to be rolled out imminently and two and a half million more appointments to take us up to pre-Covid levels of NHS dentistry, I think, is a significant step and it’s part of a broader plan to bring down waiting lists across the NHS.
“Just the last week we made it easier for families to go and see their pharmacists to get medicines for common ailments like ear infections or sore throats. That will make a huge difference, particularly for parents with young kids not having to go to the GP and get an appointment, just see their pharmacist.
“Things like that that we’re doing all add up and just make sure everyone can get the healthcare that they need.”
But Labour accused the Government of failing to tackle the issue of waiting times.
“People are waiting longer for NHS treatment than ever before, and waiting lists are 400,000 longer than when Sunak became Prime Minister,” shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said.
“The last Labour government cut the maximum waiting time from 18 months to 18 weeks. After 14 years of Conservative vandalism of the NHS, more patients wait longer than 18 weeks than ever before, and the number of patients waiting 18 months has doubled in the past few months. Things are getting worse and worse.”
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey also hit out at Mr Sunak for failing to meet his pledge to cut waiting lists.
“Patients across the country are waiting desperately for appointments, while Conservative MPs continue to fight amongst themselves,” he said.
“It is clear that Rishi Sunak’s broken pledge is having a catastrophic impact on our NHS. His planned NHS spending cuts must be cancelled now to make sure patients get the care they deserve.”