Now You See It, Now You Don’t. The £50 million NHS Dentistry Trick

Now You See It, Now You Don’t. The £50 million NHS Dentistry Trick

The heavily publicised £50 million pounds additional funding for dentistry that was announced earlier this year has turned out to be nothing of the sort. It seems likely that £25 million or less will have been spent, and that this will have bought far less than the claimed 350, 000 appointments. Much of this reduced spend has occurred outside the GDS.

January saw a barrage of shocking stories about the fragile state of NHS dentistry. The BDA organised a PR onslaught, across national and local media. News and current affairs programming repeated the key messages that NHS dentistry was often unavailable, and the public were suffering.  

The Department of Health must have been desperate to change the news narrative. Only days later, the Government announced a programme of £50 million emergency funding. As expected comprehensive and generally favourable media coverage followed.  As fuller details on how the scheme would work emerged, the profession began to wonder if this was a project to provide dental appointments, or just grab positive headlines. Papers that had been running dental DIY stories, now heralded a “blitz” of extra appointments.

There have been debates in both the Commons and the Lords as well as committee meetings about the access crisis since January. Faced with the familiar complaints of constituents left in pain, a lack of appointments, and emerging “dental deserts,” ministers developed a routine response. Again and again, the £50 million figure was quoted.

Once the announcement had faded from the headlines, NHS press officers became very unhelpful when the BDA and other interested groups asked how the scheme was going. But now a clearer picture has emerged.

  • At the end of May, Chair of the BDA PEC committee, Eddie Crouch tweeted that Yorkshire and Humber, allocated £8.3 million, had actually spent only £2.3 million. Most of this appears to have been allocated to the CDS rather than GDS.
  • Essex LDC have reported that with £5.7 million allocated in the area, £2.4million was commissioned. Given the limited time available and UDA pressures, this was a real achievement.
  • In mid-April, Maria Caulfield, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care replying to questions about the distribution of the £50 million, said that, “National Health Service regional teams are working with local providers to commission additional activity to improve access for patients. Regional commissioners are facilitating the distribution of the additional funding in all regions.” This was, at best, disingenuous, since a key aspect of the initiative was that any funded work had to be not just commissioned, but fully delivered by the end of March.   
  • In a similar inaccuracy during a Lords debate in late May, Lord Kamall, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care, claimed that £50 million had been “provided”. He also failed to answer a fellow Lord’s question about how much of the money had gone to rural areas, instead advising that those needing treatment called 111.
  • At the time of the announcement the CDO for England, Sara Hurley spoke of “injecting an extra 50 million into routine services.” This was despite information about the funding emphasising that it was to be used to provide emergency care and focus on priority and disadvantaged groups.
  • Recently, Chair of the BDA GDPC, Shawn Charlwood has told the LDC conference that “We were told that if the fifty million is not completely spent, it will be impossible to justify additional long-term investment.”
  • Programme 1a would now appear to be the governments preferred approach to dealing with the access crisis. It is funded from existing contracts, and so requires no new money.
  • At the time that the Yorkshire and Humber figures appeared, BDA GDPC member, Simon Thackeray, tweeted that he looked forward to discussing them with Maria Caulfield at the LDC conference. In the event, the Under-Secretary made her excuses at the last minute, and did not attend.

It would appear that when political expediency and healthcare meet, there can only be one winner.

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