Revealed: Additional £50m Failed To Score

Revealed: Additional £50m Failed To Score

The latest ‘NHS Dentistry and Oral Health Update’, which dropped into subscribers’ inboxes on Wednesday 31st August, revealed the response to a FOI request seeking answers to the effectiveness of the much trumpeted ‘additional £50M funding’ that was announced in January to entice practices to add additional sessions or open up for additional hours in the evenings and at weekends to confront urgent care backlogs.

The newsletter, which was signed by Rebecca Harris, Deputy Dental Officer England and Ali Sparke, Director for Dentistry, Community Pharmacy and Optometry conceded that the time frame for the initiative was short and that it coincided with the Omicron wave which ‘made it difficult for some practices to deliver additional appointments’.

Nevertheless, 731 high street dentists and 32 community dental services providers “went above and beyond to expand their core hours” according to the widely circulated communication.

“This enabled us to treat an additional 64,456 people, with one-third of the activities taking place on the weekend, utilising 30% of the available funding”*.  GDPUK understands that the unspent budget was not rolled over into the new contract year commencing April 1st.

When launched, the initiative was hailed for creating an additional 350,000 appointments. Government ministers have tirelessly weaved – and continue to weave - ‘£50M additional funding’ into every reply to awkward questions about NHS dental service patient access, much to the consternation of many in the profession who predicted its failure to gain traction right from the start. By any measure, it has fallen far short of that target.

Whilst the numbers treated is a bitter disappointment, the demographics of those helped is, however, cause for qualified celebration as “the majority of treatments (67%) were for urgent care. When compared to usual care sessions during the same time period, a higher proportion of patients were charge exempt (32% v 14%) and drawn from some of the most deprived groups based on ACORN consumer classification status”.

We use the expression ‘qualified’ because the figures also reveal just how much unfulfilled ‘urgent care’ resides in that constituency of the population who are charge exempt. Many will be deterred from seeking regular dental care – if able to access it – by fears of cost and prior oral health education.

“This additional effort from dental teams has followed an incredibly challenging time throughout the COVID-19 pandemic where more than 600 urgent dental hubs were stood up to prioritise urgent dental needs, vulnerable patients, and free treatment for children” the newsletter’s comments concluded.

Eddie Crouch, Chair of the BDA Principal Executive Committee was less impressed. 

The FOI request and reply can be viewed here: https://opendata.nhsbsa.net/dataset/foi-25546

*“NHS Dental Services, NHSBSA Copyright 2022”

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