In response to a question on access to dental care from Labour MP Cat Smith, the Prime Minister claimed there has been an increase in dentistry funding and that more dentists are practicing across the UK. He told an audience during yesterday’s PMQs: “As a result of the reformed NHS dentistry contract, there are now more NHS dentists across the UK - with more funding making sure people can get the treatment they need.”
But the BDA has insisted that “not one of these claims is accurate” and has urged Sunak to “correct the record”. The organisation claims that staffing levels in dentistry have dropped, with the workforce seeing just 24,272 dentists perform NHS activity in England during 2021-2022. This is lower than levels seen in 2017-2018.
With regard to funding, dentists argue that budgets have been subject to a “decade of savage real terms cuts”. The BDA estimates that with inflation reaching record highs, it would take an extra £1.5 billion a year to simply restore resources to 2010 levels - let alone improve them.
BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: “The Prime Minister has offered a grotesque misrepresentation of a crisis facing millions. Our patients are living with the reality.
“The facts are there are no new dentists, no new contract and no new money. All we’ve seen are tweaks at the margins. We need honesty, ambition and investment to save a service on its last legs.”
Cat Smith, the MP who asked the Prime Minister the question, has since written to Sunak asking him to correct the parliamentary record. Her request has been supported by other MPs, such as Simon Lightwood and Yasmin Quereshi.
It comes as healthcare professionals continue to speak out about the crisis facing the NHS. Nurses, junior doctors and paramedics are all striking for better pay and working conditions, and patients are being hit by record A&E waits and increasingly delayed ambulance response times.
Warnings have emerged of excess deaths due to delayed emergency care, and the government is considering asking doctors to treat A&E patients in hospital car parks under new plans to tackle backlogs and overcrowding.
In August, the Prime Minister pledged to “restore” NHS dentistry by ringfencing its funding, strengthening prevention, and encouraging more dentists to stay within the health service. He stated at the time: “My five point plan will be activated on Day One to free up dentistry professionals to do their jobs, encourage NHS trained dentists to stay in the NHS, and focus on prevention as that is always better than the cure.”
But the BDA says there is “no evidence” that this plan has been activated. It argues that there have been no formal negotiations on how to change the system, meaning any minor “tweaks” that may have been made are “unlikely to increase access or improve workforce retention.”
Meanwhile, research undertaken over the summer by the BBC revealed that nine in ten NHS dentistry practices are unable to take on new adult patients.
During the same PMQs session on Wednesday (11 January), Sunak also revealed he has used private healthcare in the past - after previously refusing to comment on the matter. He added that he is registered to an NHS GP.
NationalWorld has contacted Number 10 and the Department for Health and Social Care for comment.