2 March 2023
NHS Dentists – Update

One of the top issues in my in-tray over recent weeks and months has been NHS dentistry and the inability of so many in our area to get an appointment, even in cases of urgent care.

That’s why I have been campaigning hard on this issue – both locally and in Westminster. Dental health is a crucial part of NHS services and it is vital that EVERYONE can access the support they need.

As part of my ongoing efforts to speak up on behalf of Mid Norfolk, I welcomed the chance to be involved in a call with NHS England and the Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board yesterday. With every Norfolk constituency represented, we heard more about the news that the commissioning of NHS dentistry will be delegated by NHS England to the local ICB from the beginning of April – and what that could mean for services in the future.

For years I have made the case that the best way to improve local NHS services is via stronger local integration (see more here). I am pleased therefore that there is broad agreement that this step will mark a positive move in that direction, allowing local NHS providers to better coordinate dental support alongside other related and/or important healthcare provision.

I also welcomed the news that NHS England have been working with the local ICB for a year to best manage the transition of commissioning, and that they remain committed to working closely with the ICB to support their leadership, but also to address some of the wider policy issues that need addressing – such as how best we can attract and retain NHs dentists in our region.

NHS England also indicated a willingness to engage proactively with local MPs as we drive forward calls for a new Dental School here in Norfolk (to learn more, click here), recognising the value such an institution would provide.

As explained in my update back in January (see here), the Government published its Our Plan for Patients in September, setting out the steps being taken to incentivise dentists to do more NHS work (not just private), as well as to take on some of the more difficult cases. In the weeks and months that followed, the Government worked at pace to begin implementing that plan and, on 25th November, introduced legislation to amend the NHS dental contract, again to better incentivise dentists to deliver care to high-need patients through fairer remuneration and improve the NHS dental sector’s resilience – for example, by allowing greater flexibility around commission so that NHS dentists can provide extra are where they are able to.

Yesterday, my fellow Norfolk MPs and I learned what, in practice, some of that will mean for services on the frontline in the short-medium term.

Dental practices will now be able to better utilise the likes of hygienists and high skilled practice staff and therapists. Moving forward, they will be able to perform a role similar to that which we’ve grown accustomed of expecting from a practice nurse in a GP surgery, being able to carry out basic check-ups and lower level care. In turn, this will increase the number of patients many of our local NHS dental practices can see, while freeing up our NHS dentists themselves to focus on the more specialist and urgent treatments that some patients require. (Having specifically called for this step to taken in my letters to the dental minister last year, I am delighted to see the Government is clearly listening to the advice being given by MPs – based on the feedback they are themselves receiving from experienced professionals in the sector).

In addition, NHS dental practices will have greater freedom to personalise the recall period for patients. As we know, traditionally, patients receive six monthly check ups. However, if a patient has healthy teeth and a history of good oral care, there is no need for such regular check ups. Instead, moving forward, dental practices will be able to recall patients with healthy teeth over larger timescales – for example eighteen months. This will, again, free up much needed capacity for our local NHS dentists to see patients with dental issues and, crucially, children – who are at greater risk of tooth decay in their development years.

The ICB will also have stronger powers to make NHS dental practices update their availability more regularly. I know from my correspondence with constituents that one of the major frustrations they have is the lack of up to date information provided by local practices.

Despite this positive news however, I know that there remains much to be done. My fellow parliamentary colleagues and I made it clear to NHS England and the ICB that YOU, our constituents, need to see progress quickly.

We impressed upon them the importance of tackling the longer term structural issues to our NHS dental sector that need addressing (again, around recruitment and retention) and requested more information as to how the ICB, with NHS England support, will better monitor the performances of registered NHS dentists. We also asked them to consider what more can be done to encourage private dentists to take on more NHS dental work.

Rest assured, this remains a central focus of mine – and I will continue to lobby hard on behalf of Mid Norfolk.

To learn more about my NHS dental campaign to date, please click here.