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Millions more dental appointments to be offered under NHS Dental Recovery Plan

By NHS | 7th February 2024 | News

The NHS has announced that patients will benefit from millions more NHS dental appointments over the next year, thanks to a major new plan to ensure easier and faster access to NHS dental care across England.

Under the plans, supported by £200m of government funding, NHS dentists will be given a 'new patient' payment of between £15-£50 (depending on treatment need) to treat around a million new patients who have not seen an NHS dentist in two years or more.

Published today by the NHS and the government, the plan could see up to 2.5 million additional NHS dental appointments delivered for patients over the next 12 months, including up to 1.5 million extra treatments being delivered.

The plan sets out how the NHS and government will drive a major new focus on prevention and good oral health in young children and deliver an expanded dental workforce.

The plan will also see the government roll out a new 'Smile For Life' programme which will see parents and parents-to-be offered advice for baby gums and milk teeth, with the aim that by the time children go to school, every child will see tooth brushing as a normal part of their day.

To attract new NHS dentists and improve access to care in areas with the highest demand, around 240 dentists will be offered one-off payments of up to £20,000 for working in under-served areas for up to three years.

The public will also be able to see which practices in their local area are accepting new patients on the NHS website and the NHS App. To promote the increased availability of appointments, the government will also roll out a marketing campaign encouraging anyone who has not been seen by a dentist for the past two years to access treatment.

NHS work will also be made more attractive to dental teams with the minimum value of activity increasing to £28 (from £23).

New ways of delivering care in rural and coastal areas will also be rolled out, including launching 'dental vans' to help reach the most isolated communities.

In addition, for the first time ever, a water fluoridation programme will be rolled out by government, which could reduce the number of tooth extractions due to decay in the most deprived areas of the country. Subject to consultation, the programme would enable an additional 1.6 million people to benefit from water fluoridation, first expanding across the North East.

The health service will build a pipeline of new dentists and other dental care professionals, including increasing dental training places by up to 40% by 2031/32, as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan .

The plan, published today, also includes new measures to attract dentists to work in the NHS, including supporting more graduate dentists to work in NHS care. The government will consult on whether dentists should be required to work in the NHS for a period upon completion of their training.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: "COVID-19 has significantly impacted NHS dental care, and teams across the country are working hard to recover services and meet rising demand.

"Building on the reforms we have already implemented, the health service will now introduce a wide range of practical measures to help make it easier for people to see a dentist, from incentivising dentists to take on new patients to supporting dentists to be part of the NHS in areas where access is challenging.

"Recovering dentistry is a priority for the NHS and this plan is a significant step towards transforming NHS dental services for the better."

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said: "NHS dentistry was hit hard by the pandemic and while services are improving - with 23% more treatments delivered last year compared to the previous year - we know that for too many people, accessing a dentist isn't as easy as it should be.

"That's why we're taking action today to boost the number of NHS dentists, help cut waiting lists and put NHS dentistry on a sustainable footing for the long-term. Backed by £200 million, this new recovery plan will deliver millions more NHS dental appointments and provide easier and faster access to care for people right across the country."

Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins, said: "Dentistry is a priority for this government. I know from my experience representing a rural and coastal constituency in Lincolnshire how frustrating it is for people who cannot get a dentist appointment, especially after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dentistry. We have seen big improvements over the past year, but now we are going much further.

"I'm determined to deliver faster, simpler and fairer access to NHS dentistry for patients - and this plan will help anyone who has not been able to see a dentist in the past two years to do so."

"The long-term decisions we are taking will help ensure that good oral health is available to all, wherever you live and whatever your background."

Jason Wong MBE, Interim Chief Dental Officer for England, said: "Two years ago the NHS implemented the first reforms to dentistry in 16 years and this plan will now build on that work to ensure that one and half million additional dental treatments will be offered to patients next year.

"Good oral health remains essential for good general health, and this package of measures will ensure more patients can access NHS dental services while better supporting dental teams across the country to provide high-quality care."

Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom said: "Good oral hygiene and daily toothbrushing are vital to give every child a great smile for life.

"This plan will ensure that healthy teeth and gums are available to everyone."

Jacob Lant, CEO of National Voices said: "This extra money will breathe much needed life into NHS dental services over the next 12 months, and it should help thousands of people who have been unable to see a dentist in the last two years to get the care they need.

"National data shows us far too many people don't currently have access to a NHS dentist and so getting the nation's oral health back on track is a major challenge - we hope to work with NHS England to ensure those most in need, such as those awaiting cancer treatment, transplant or whose lives are severely impacted by the need for urgent dental care, do not miss out.

"Dentistry is all about prevention and while we are assured by plans to improve dental training numbers, childhood dental health and water fluoridisation, a long term plan also needs the right investment to ensure improvements are sustained. We stand ready to work together to ensure any future plan reflects the real needs of communities across England."

Neil Carmichael, Executive Chair of the Association of Dental Groups, said: "We welcome these additional incremental changes to the NHS contract, noting the additional £200million allocated for the year ahead. The package rightly acknowledges improving access for high need patients as a priority and signals a focus on children through family hubs and dental teams supporting children at school. We look forward to engaging fully in the wider consultation on longer-term contract reform."

Healthwatch England chief executive Louise Ansari said: "Across England, we have seen major access issues in NHS dentistry. The rising cost of living has had a real impact, with our latest data showing that one in five people have avoided going to the dentist because they can't afford it. A year ago, this figure was one in ten.

"The dentistry recovery plan is a good start in addressing these serious problems. To widen access to NHS dentistry to those experiencing the greatest health inequalities, it's vital dentists take up the new premium payments, promote availability of appointments to new patients and prioritise slots to people most in need.

"We also welcome the move to incentivise dentists to work in 'dental deserts' with golden hellos, to use dental vans in remote areas and to roll out more prevention schemes for children.

"However, in the long run more radical solutions are needed to get NHS dentistry back on track. We welcome the government's commitment to consulting with the profession on the contract and urge this to happen as soon as possible."

Dr Abhi Pal FCGDent, President of the College of General Dentistry, said: "The government has today set out a range of initiatives intended to help tackle some of the many longstanding problems facing NHS dental provision in England. These include some potentially positive new initiatives, which we welcome, alongside previously made announcements."

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