NHS dentistry in Cumbria at ‘breaking point’ says local MP

NHS dentistry in Cumbria at ‘breaking point’ says local MP

South Lakes Lib-Dem MP has secured a commitment from the Government to roll out a new NHS dental contract to Cumbria to address a serious shortage of NHS dentists in the county. Junior minister, Seema Kennedy MP, told MPs that the new contract should attract people to and keep people in the dental profession and ensure better access to dentistry in places such as Cumbria and across the country.

Tim Farron MP had raised the topic during a Westminster Hall debate where he said NHS dentistry in Cumbria had reached breaking point. “More than half of all adults in our county have not had access to an NHS dentist in the last two years, while one in three of our children does not even have a place with an NHS dentist.” He pointed out that in rural areas lack of access to an NHS dentist resulted in families having to make ‘ludicrously long journeys’ to reach the nearest surgery with an available NHS place.

The MP believed that the primary cause of the increasing problems with dental access in Cumbria and across England was the way that this Government choose to commission dentistry. He said that the NHS dental contract was completely perverse. “Based on units of dental activity, it sets quotas on the number of patients an NHS dentist can see and the number of dental procedures they can perform in any given year. If a dentist delivers more than they have been commissioned to do, not only are they not remunerated for the extra work, but they have to bear the cost of any materials used, any necessary laboratory work or other overheads from their own pockets,” he explained to MPs.

Morale among dentists practising in the NHS was at an all-time low. The BDA has told him that nearly three in five dental practitioners in England are planning to scale down or leave NHS work entirely in the next five years. He had also met with the British Association of Dental Therapists, who had said that therapists should be allowed to initiate a course of treatment, to ease some of the burden on dentists, and enable patients to be seen more quickly.

Replying to the debate, junior health minister, Seema Kennedy MP said that Cumbria had struggled to attract dentists. She claimed that access to NHS dentistry nationally was high, but that in some isolated areas it is very difficult to get to a dentist. She claimed that the Government was ‘taking steps to address that issue to ensure that everyone has access to an NHS dentist’.

She said that the Governmnet was ‘working closely’ with NHS England to reform the current dental contract. “Feedback from dentists who are testing the prototype contract suggests it is a more satisfying way of delivering care”, she said. Nationally, the Government were introducing so-called flexible commissioning, which allows local NHS commissioners to commission a wider range of services from dental practices.

On contract reform she had announced that a further 28 dental practices had joined the programme, “bringing to 102 the number of practices that are testing the new prevention-focused way of delivering care”. NHS England was ‘considering carefully’ when that approach could be rolled out more widely across the NHS.

It is important that we get the new contract right, but I am hopeful that the roll-out will happen as soon as possible. She concluded by saying that the new prevention-focused dental contract should attract people to and keep people in the dental profession, and “make dentistry a more varied and rewarding career”. It would ensure better access to dentistry in places such as Cumbria and across the country for all our constituents, she claimed.

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