Leadsom To Meet Dental Campaigner Following Westminster Debate

Leadsom To Meet Dental Campaigner Following Westminster Debate

The thorny question of whether cancer patients should be given guaranteed access to NHS dental services that are, like prescriptions, free of patient charges, was considered by MPs in Westminster Hall in mid April.

As reported by GDPUK (Friday 12th April), a Manchester patient diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2016 was ’horrified’ to learn that cancer patients were being charged for NHS dental appointments and that many were simply unable to find an NHS dentist to see them.

Michele Solak-Edwards of Flixton, Manchester took her concerns to her local MPs and Andrew Western (LAB, Stretford and Urmston) succeeded in securing the debate ’That this House has considered access to dentistry for cancer patients’.

Western told MPs and the Minister, Dame Adrea Leadsom  "Unlike other physical side effects of cancer treatment, which may be medicated with the free prescriptions that cancer patients are entitled to, any side effects requiring dental treatment must be paid for. 

As we all know, the costs of dental treatment, even if someone is lucky enough to be registered with an NHS dentist, can be overwhelming. For Michele, the significant costs of her dental treatment had to be paid for at a time when, like many other cancer patients, she was unable to work because of her condition."

Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that a cancer diagnosis leads to a person being around £570 a month worse off, with 33% of patients having to give up work because of their condition. 

Mrs Solak-Edwards wants cancer patients to receive free dental treatment for five years from the time of diagnosis or ’for life’ where the condition is terminal.

Her campaign also seeks for newly diagnosed cancer patients to be told about the imperative of dental care before and during treatment.  

Mr Western said "Currently, there is no guarantee that cancer patients will be informed by their doctor that they should seek a dental check-up before undergoing cancer treatment. That is despite guidance from the NHS Specialist Pharmacy Service, the Royal College of Surgeons, the BDA and the British Society of Special Care Dentistry stating the importance of patients being dentally fit before starting cancer treatment."

"Michele’s campaign therefore calls on the NHS to provide information to all newly diagnosed cancer patients, telling them of the need to seek dental assistance prior to their cancer treatments commencing. That does happen in many places, but we want to see it enshrined in law. That information could be provided by GPs and would include a list of dental practices in each area that could treat the cancer patient on the NHS" said Mr Western.

Leadsom: "Hundreds of thousands of new dental treatments"

Responding for the government Dame Andrea Leadsom, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care defaulted at length to the various initiatives outlined in the Dental Recovery Plan and, in a claim that will astonish many in the dental profession, she revealed "we have already seen hundreds of thousands of new dental treatments just since 1 March, when the plan went live. Unfortunately, the data is not publishable as yet, but I feel really optimistic."

Mrs Leadsom promised to look at the request for better information on oral health being given to cancer patients but offered little hope of further changes to dental charge exemptions. 47% of treatments are delivered to patients who are exempt.

With regard to prioritising appointments for cancer patients Leadsom deflected the responsibility for this onto the ICBs saying "I am aware of instances where patients have faced unacceptable delays to the start of their treatment because of a lack of dentistry appointments....such delays are just unacceptable, and we are committed to making sure that everyone who needs a dentist should get one. That is why ... we are also publishing new guidance to make it crystal clear to every integrated care board that they have a responsibility to commission additional specific services in their local area when they identify problems such as cancer patients being unable to access timely treatment."

Western: It’s not a party political issue

Concluding the debate, Andrew Western thanked Mrs Leadsom for offering to meet him and Michele Sonak-Edwards to discuss the matter further and he stressed that this was not a party political issue.  

"I also welcome her commitment to looking at how we can deal with the information side of this. However, with respect—she would expect me to say this—that is perhaps the easiest of the issues to tackle. I gently say to her that at no point did I ask for all patients to have free dental treatment, but just for cancer patients to have dental treatment because their experience has not come about as a result of not looking after their teeth, but as a direct result of other treatments."

Mrs Solak-Edwards told GDPUK that she was pleased by the offer of a meeting to discuss her campaign with the Minister. "Small wins!"  she said.

The Westminster Hall debate ’That this House has considered access to dentistry for cancer patients’ can be read here 


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