Chief Dental Officer Jason Wong has been a major cheerleader for the Government plan but admits in private it won’t fix the national crisis accessing an NHS dentist
The country’s top dentist has admitted the Tories’ NHS dentistry rescue plan is “nowhere near enough”.
It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week unveiled his plan which did nothing to reform the NHS contract or reverse a decade of real terms funding cuts. The “flawed” NHS contract pays dentists the same amount for three fillings as 20 and caps the number of patients they are paid to treat.
Jason Wong, NHS England’s Chief Dental Officer, has publicly been a major cheerleader for the plan. However in response to comments from other dentists criticising the plan on Facebook seen by the Mirror, Mr Wong MBE has admitted it won’t fix the crisis.
One dentist commented: “Sadly I do not see this as a positive step. It is obvious that anything less than the abolition of the unworkable UDA (units of dental activity) system is a total waste of time.” Mr Wong replied: “That attitude got no change at all for 16 years. I don’t disagree with the sentiment of its abolition but I have no levers to achieve that. In the meantime driving any change is not a waste of time so on that I disagree with you. I do agree it is nowhere near enough.”
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: “Even the Government’s chief dentist admits the Conservatives’ announcement won’t fix the damage done by 14 years of Tory cuts and mismanagement. This confirms that NHS dentistry will remain out of reach for millions as long as the Tories remain in office. Only Labour has a plan to rescue dentistry from this crisis, so that everyone who needs an NHS dentist can get one.”
The Mirror is campaigning for a return to access to an NHS dentist for all and our online petition launched on Friday hit 100,000 signatures in its first week. The new plan includes a New Patient Premium for dentists to receive a bonus of between £15 and £50 for treating someone who has not had a check up for two years.
The minimum amount paid to dentists for NHS treatments will also rise from £23 to £28. However only 900 of the 8,000 practices in England are not currently getting a £28 minimum so a minority of practices will benefit from the uplift.
Crucially, it is unclear whether the NHS dentistry budget will be increased. It has flatlined at around £3 billion for the last decade which after inflation has meant a real terms cut of around £1 billion. The funding squeeze means the contract effectively caps the number of NHS patients dentists can be paid to treat.
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Everyone should have access to an NHS dentist
More than 12 million people were unable to access NHS dental care last year – more than 1 in 4 adults in England. At the same time 90% of dental practices are no longer accepting new NHS adult patients. Data from the House of Commons Library showed 40% of children didn’t have their recommended annual check-up last year.
Restore funding for dental services and recruit more NHS dentists
The UK spends the smallest proportion of its heath budget on dental care of any European nation. Government spending on dental services in England was cut by a quarter in real terms between 2010 and 2020. The number of NHS dentists is down by more than 500 to 24,151 since the pandemic.
Change the contracts
A Parliamentary report by the Health Select Committee has branded the current NHS dentists’ contracts as “not fit for purpose” and described the state of the service as “unacceptable in the 21st century”. The system effectively sets quotas on the maximum number of NHS patients a dentist can see as it caps the number of procedures they can perform each year. Dentists also get paid the same for delivering three or 20 fillings, often leaving them out of pocket. The system should be changed so it enables dentists to treat on the basis of patient need.
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Mr Wong’s explosive comments will shatter confidence among dentists that the plan will tackle the collapse in NHS access as many practice owners give up and go private. Promoting the plan in an NHS England video on Twitter last week, he said: Many NHS dentists and their teams across the country are working flat out but there’s no doubt the pandemic has had a big impact on dentistry and patients deserve better. That’s why the NHS has launched our plan to make it easier for you to get an NHS appointment.”
Mr Wong has been Chief Dental Officer on an interim basis since May 2023 when the incumbent retired. The British Dental Association had previously tweeted: “How on earth can the Government put the mouth back in the body when Ministers drag their heels over putting a new CDO in to NHS England?”
NHS data has indicated 83% of surgeries now refuse to accept adults as patients seeking NHS care. Just over 70% do not accept under-18s.The £3billion NHS dentistry budget has become increasingly made up of patient charges over the last decade after the Government repeated above-inflation fee rises for everything from check-ups to dentures. A check up now costs £25.80, up from £16.50, and a filling £70.70, up from £45.60.
A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The dental recovery plan is an important milestone for dental services across the country, and the NHS recognises that this work must go hand in hand with long-term reform of dentistry services given the significant challenges facing the service – and this is exactly the point that Jason Wong was making. To achieve this the health service has committed to working with the profession and Government on what further changes can be made to improve this important service for patients.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our new dental recovery plan sets out how we will make access to dentistry faster, simpler and fairer. It will help the sector recover from the pandemic by creating an additional 2.5 million dental appointments for patients over the next 12 months, backed with £200 million. The plan also sets out our commitment to deliver long-term reform to the sector – including by consulting on the current contract and building a dental workforce ready for the future through the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. The Government already invests more than £3 billion each year to support NHS dentistry.”