Streeting Meets The BDA On Day One

Streeting Meets The BDA On Day One

Wes Streeting, the new Secretary of State for Health & Social Care today (Monday 8th July) honoured his promise, made before the general election, to meet with  representatives of the British Dental Association (BDA) to discuss reforming the NHS dental contract.

Mr Streeting said he would meet with the BDA "on the first Monday following the election."  Over the coming days he will be meeting with representatives of the junior doctors whose ongoing dispute is dominating his in-tray.

According to the BDA, the government’s new policy - to regard the NHS as ’broken’ - could hold the key to breaking the impasse on fundamental reform of the service. And it has greeted the acceptance, by the new Secretary of State Wes Streeting, on the damage caused by the current target based dental contract.

The dental contract – imposed on the profession in 2006 – lies at the heart of the workforce and access crises which are plaguing NHS dentistry. With an exodus already in motion, the professional body says reform won’t wait – a decent contract won’t work if there is no workforce left by the time it’s finally introduced.

The contract was once more dubbed ’not fit for purpose’ by the Health and Social Care Committee in 2023 following an Inquiry into Dentistry held by the Health & Social Care Committee.  

In its evidence the BDA urged a fundamental break with the target-based system and a shift to a prevention-focused, patient centred model of care. The BDA described its recommendations as an ‘instruction manual to save NHS dentistry’.

In response, the Sunak government only made tweaks to the framework. These included increasing the minimum UDA rate to £28, offering £20,000 incentives, payable over three years, to 250 dentists in the hope of enticing them to areas of low provision  - the so called ’dental deserts - and paying an enhanced rate for seeing ’new’ patients in a scheme that only applied for one year.

Former ministers, most notably the previous Minister responsible for Primary Care Andrea Leadsom, claimed these would help ensure that “everyone who needs one, would be able to access an NHS dentist”, but when canvassed, only 1% of dentists believed the plan could achieve this laudable objective. 

To the dismay of the profession, no additional funding was available, leaving some practices delivering certain NHS treatments working at a financial loss. 

The dental budget has been flat in cash terms since 2010, its static budget of around £3bn failing to keep pace with soaring costs and population growth. This, the BDA says and the statistics prove, has resulted in real-term cuts unparalleled elsewhere in the NHS. 

’In real terms the dental budget has been cut by over a third since 2010, a real cut of £1bn’ the BDA told the meeting.

The BDA accepts that Mr Streeting and his team can’t pull a lever or flick a switch four days after an election but it has called on the new government to set out both a short-term rescue package as it works on a longer term reform of the service.

A ’cost-neutral’ rescue plan - that puts huge underspends to work - could ensure hundreds of struggling NHS practices survive the BDA claims. This would be an interim measure, while negotiations are concluded on the essential and fundamental reform of the NHS contract.

The BDA has said it is ready to work ’constructively’ with the new Government on the delivery of its commitment to provide 700,000 new urgent and emergency dental appointments.

Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee said “The first step to save NHS dentistry is admitting we have a problem. Wes Streeting has done so today.

“There is finally recognition that failed contracts and underfunding have fuelled the current crisis.

"We take absolutely nothing for granted, and will hold this Government to account, as we did the last. 

“But there’s now a chance to move forward, to rescue and reform a service millions depend on.”

Image:  Eddie Crouch (BDA) Wes Streeting (Sec of State for Health) Shawn Charlwood (BDA) Martin Woodrow (BDA CEO)

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