Health Committee Part Two: Leadsom Has An 'Abbott Moment'

Health Committee Part Two: Leadsom Has An ’Abbott Moment’

Dame Andrea Leadsom, the Minister responsible for Primary Health including dentistry, has admitted that the Dental Recovery Plan’s (DRP) hope of delivering an extra 2.5 million appointments "has a high likelihood of not being reliable".

Mrs Leadsom appeared (19th March) at the Health & Social Care Committee’s review of the DRP launched barely six weeks ago.  Challenged to explain how its predictions of 2.5 million additional appointments or 1.5 million courses of treatment had been arrived at, the Minister said it was the result of  "NHS modelling that took into account the views of dentists and the usage of contracts and various other factors that came up with an assessment.”  

She went on “It’s a complicated set of factors but at the same time it has quite a high likelihood of not being reliable, as is the case with all the modelling. As a previous finance person myself, I can absolutely assure you that it’s not rocket science. It’s more forecasting. It is a very tricky issue.”

Media headlines, much to the beleaguered government’s delight, peddled hope of 2.5 million additional appointments, and this was something that Sheffield Labour MP Paul Blomfield seized upon.  He told Mrs Leadsom “That’s quite an admission minister, because the 2.5 million was the headline that accompanied the Recovery Plan. And what you’re now saying is it’s not really reliable.”

Mrs Leadsom’s discomfort was further fuelled by her muddled delivery of clinician numbers.  Reminiscent of the embarrassment attached to Diane Abbott when she struggled to provide an accurate costing for her proposal to increase police numbers, Mrs Leadsom displayed a glaring lack of knowledge when she claimed there were over 60,000 dental therapists "waiting in the wings" who could be used to perform check-ups and free up dentist’s time.  

The accurate number for therapists, according to the BDA, is 6198.  And for all the talk of taking fluoride application to schools, the Plan, even if it hit projections, would only reach 2% of the country’s primary school children.

Earlier, the BDA’s Shawn Charlwood had told the Committee that only 1% of dentists believed the Dental Reform Plan (DRP) would facilitate access for all who need it. This was one of the government’s stated aims.

To the surprise bordering-on-incredulity of some in the profession, Interim CDO Jason Wong then told the Committee that he fully supported the DRP.  

Mr Wong’s support prompted GDPUK reader, Phil Davies to comment "Having listened to Shawn Charlwood rip the DRP to pieces , Mr Wong then throws himself and the profession under the bus by saying he supports this waste of time plan and kicks any contract reform down the line by years".

As Interim CDO, Mr Wong occupies a difficult and at times sensitive brief. He is not responsible for contract reform although is doubtless consulted for advice.  As a practicing dentist himself, Mr Wong is acutely aware of the contract’s shortcomings because he has said so, albeit in a private social media exchange that was not intended for public consumption. 

York Labour MP Rachel Maskell, who has taken a close interest in NHS dentistry, asked Wong for his thoughts on the DRP, specifically around UDA’s.  Mr Wong said it was "the next step towards contract reform" - implying it was a stepping stone - and cited the additional 160,000 patients seen in Manchester over ten months since a new patient premium had been trialled. He also welcomed the extension of fluoride, the efficacy of which he had witnessed in his own county of Lincolnshire where its use in the county was split and so was the condition of childrens’ teeth.  

Contract Reform Promised - again

If there was a nugget of hope, it was Mrs Leadsom’s acceptance that the UDA system was not suited to all scenarios.  Indicating that contract reform would happen in 2025, she said that UDAs "worked quite well" for check-ups but that remuneration for complex treatment would require a "new approach".  And she was guarded about capitation: pilots, Mrs Leadsom said,  had resulted in there being lower access to patients with greater need.

Charlwood: ’Spinning’

Reflecting on the Health & Social Care Committee’s meeting, at which he had been a prominent and coruscating contributor, Shawn Charlwood of the BDA said "As long as the Government places pedalling myths ahead of delivering real change, we will keep seeing Victorian dentistry in this country.  Today we heard a long list of vague and inaccurate figures.

Government has to stop spinning and rip up the rotten contract fuelling this crisis."


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