The Dental Odd Couple: Unlikely Pair Drawn By Dental Access Crisis

The Dental Odd Couple: Unlikely Pair Drawn By Dental Access Crisis

If the novelty of First Dates and Love Island has worn off, GDPUK can reveal another unlikely match, with a very contrasting pair bought together over their plans to fix the dental access crisis. A shared enthusiasm for making new dental graduates work in the NHS has bought this oddest of couples together.

On the right is Tom Hunt the Conservative MP for Ipswich in Suffolk. It is an established dental desert and he will receive frequent of complaints from constituents about the lack of NHS access. Tom appears to have been sent by Central Casting following a request for a classic “Tory Boy” figure. Educated at Kings Ely and Cambridge, a councillor by his early 20’s and then elected to a safe seat before he was 32, he can claim to have spent a few months at a processing plant in the Fens sorting vegetables. An MP since 2019 he has maintained that statue toppler’s should be punished, while opining that he did not believe that fellow MP’s failure to observe Covid rules, broke the law.

Mark Jones on the left, is a co-founder of the Toothless in Suffolk group which has grown into Toothless in England. He is a long standing member of the Communist party of Great Britain and has written about dental deserts for the Morning Star, successor to The Daily Worker which was set up by the party during the Soviet era. A piece he wrote for the paper back in October 2021 remains a solid introduction to the problems that have led to the national collapse of NHS dental care. Mark is a Shop Steward for Unite and frequently tweets admiringly about the Red Army, although he takes a dim view of some other militaries.

Despite many outward differences, both men, blue suit and tie wearing Tom, and red zipper clad Mark, do have something in common, the belief that newly qualified dentists should be forced to work for the NHS for up to five years.

One might expect Tom, in normal circumstances, to be in favour of free enterprise and the healing power of unfettered markets. Mark’s expected preference would be for a command and control centralised approach to providing services. They are diametrically opposed in their opinions on most of the major issues that face the public. But when it comes to arbitrarily placing a unique restriction on the lives of one group of new graduates, they agree.

Tom’s argument for dental conscription appears to cement his ‘nice but dim’ persona. He has spoken about how students ‘train for five years to become a dentist, with their training heavily subsidised, but can immediately go into private practice or go abroad, without "giving anything back" to the NHS’. It is not known whether lack of thought or expediency is responsible his failure to recognise that other graduates after their training, manage to repay society through clearing their student loans and the taxes paid on their incomes. He also appears to have forgotten the large “subsidy” most dental graduates provide, in the shape of the heavy borrowings they accumulate in training, and will need to repay from their earnings.

Tom has asked the Prime Minister, for newly qualified UK dentists to commit to working in the NHS for five years. Rishi Sunak has agreed to explore a "tie-in", which is now being trailed to be part of the long overdue dental plan.

Asked for his opinion by the Ipswich Star, Mark Jones, said that he agreed in principle. He also went on to talk about the need for "radical reform" to the NHS dental (GDS) contract. He recognises that the contract does not offer fair pay or incentives for NHS dentists, and as a result there has been a move to work in private practice.

This is a particular issue in the area, with the Star reporting in late 2023 that around a third of the Suffolk population was unable to get a dental appointment, compared to 9% for the rest of England.

Speaking to the paper, Mr Jones said: "I am fortunate to have an NHS dentist, but I am fighting for those that don’t because I hate to see injustice, and this is one of the worst health injustices we have seen for a while.

I regularly speak to patients with horror stories. It is an absolute travesty. We do not have a shortage of dentists, we have a shortage of dentists choosing to work in the NHS under the General Dental Services (GDS) contract. The contract is not fit for purpose.”

Whether Tom and Mark can agree on what should replace it, remains to be seen.


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