Overtime or overboard? NHS England unveils £50m boost to tackle dental backlog

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  Posted by: The Probe      25th January 2022

With many having described NHS Dentistry as a ‘sinking ship’, England’s CDO announces £50 million investment to ‘blitz’ through as many treatments as possible throughout February and March

The pandemic has further forced NHS dentistry to its knees with tens of millions of appointments cancelled and a massive backlog of treatments required by patients. Now, NHS England has said that more than 350,000 additional appointments are going to be made available to NHS dental patients throughout February and March as an injection of £50 million is made available over the two-month period on a per-session basis in what is being touted as a ‘treatment blitz’.

To get through so many appointments, NHS dentists and practice staff will be giving up time during their evenings and weekends. Not to mention staff shortages and closures that continue to be caused by the spread of Covid-19. 

England’s Chief Dental Officer, Sara Hurley, said: “Dental services are a vital part of the NHS, providing oral healthcare to all age groups, and that’s why we have taken this unprecedented action to boost NHS dental services.

“The NHS is now getting key services like dentistry back to pre-pandemic levels – injecting an extra £50m into routine services will help provide checkups and treatment for hundreds and thousands of people.”

In addition, Maria Caulfield, the minister for primary care, stated that the new funding would “urgently give more people access to vital dental care when they need it”.

Several associations within the profession, although grateful to see the money invested, remain skeptical of the deadlines.

The British Dental Association (BDA) notes that ‘These new funds represent much-needed progress, but this time-limited package can only be the start when it comes to rebuilding NHS Dentistry and tackling an unprecedented backlog.

‘With practices already struggling to hit gruelling targets, the narrow timeline will limit what is achievable in the short term. Given major limits on capacity across both GDS and CDS and the difficulties bringing on new staff at short notice, we cannot be confident the full allocation can be used by the 1 April 2022 deadline.

‘But any additional funding offers some much-needed recognition of the challenges we all face, and this is the first new, albeit modest, investment in NHS dentistry in a generation.’

“Any additional funding is long overdue recognition of the huge backlogs facing NHS dentistry after a decade of cuts a cash-starved service risks being offered money that can’t be spent,” said General Dental Practice Committee Chair, Shawn Charlwood. “Hard-pressed practices are working against the clock, and many will struggle to find capacity ahead of April for this investment to make a difference.

“Until today [25th January 2022] not a penny of the government’s multi-billion-pound catch-up programme had reached dentistry. This is progress but must be just the start if we are to rebuild a service millions depend on.”

NHS England has noted that its ‘treatment blitz’ will prioritise dental patients with learning disabilities, autism or severe mental health problems.

“Any ‘blitz’ will clearly face practical barriers,” added Charlotte Waite, Chair of the England Community Dental Services Committee. “At the bare minimum, we have a commitment that recognises the needs of England’s most vulnerable patients. Well beyond 1st April, we will need to see the resources and political will in place to meet them.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Dental Groups (ADG) has welcomed the announcement of an additional £50 million in funding towards NHS dentistry to assist in the recovery of services until the end of the financial year.

ADG Chair Neil Carmichael responded: “This additional funding is welcome news to support capacity and ensure that those most in need can get an NHS dental appointment. It is a recognition that support is needed to clear the backlog of care and we hope it will be sustained going forward.

“ADG members see this as the first step on a road. The Government has asked NHS England to lead on dental system reform to better support dentists and deliver better outcomes for patients.  Whilst we will do all that we can to help address the immediate backlog of care, only reform of the broken contract model and long term workforce planning can sustain NHS dentistry for the rest of the decade.”


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