Labour would fund an extra 700,000 urgent dental appointments as part of its plan to tackle the ‘alarming decline of NHS dentistry’, the party announced today.
Ahead of its annual conference, starting this weekend, it also pledged to reform the NHS dental contract, create new incentives for dentists to work in ‘underserved areas’, and introduce supervised toothbrushing for three to five-year-olds in schools.
As with Labour’s pledge for ‘thousands more GPs’, these plans – costing £111m annually – will be funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status which allows people who live and work in the UK to pay their taxes overseas.
Pointing to GP patient survey data showing that millions of people have been unable to access NHS dentist appointments, Labour said their plans will address the ‘emergence of DIY dentistry’ and the ‘issue of children requiring operations to have rotting teeth removed’.
According to Government data, there were 42,180 episodes of tooth extractions in NHS hospitals among under 19s in 2021/22, and of those children, 26,741 received a main diagnosis of tooth decay.
Ahead of the Labour Party conference starting this weekend, leader Sir Keir Starmer said people are finding it ‘impossible’ to access NHS dentistry, and his Government ‘will not stand for millions of people being denied basic healthcare’.
There is an NHS pilot scheme in Cornwall, beginning this month, whereby only children and the most vulnerable patients will have access to free NHS dental care – Labour said this would be a ‘huge scaling down of the service’.
The 700,000 extra urgent appointments pledged will cover needs such as fillings and root canal, while the supervised toothbrushing in schools will target areas with the highest childhood tooth decay.
Sir Keir said: ‘But my mission led government will always do more than fix the basics. We will reform the dental contract to rebuild the service in the long-run, so NHS dentistry is there for all who need it.’
But the party did not specify how it would reform the contract.
Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee Shawn Charlwood said: ‘We’re seeing patients in pain reach for pliers because of choices made in Westminster. These access problems are not inevitable, and giving dentists the time and the resources will make a real difference.
‘Labour has recognised the scale of this crisis. NHS dentistry is hanging by a thread, and every party has a moral responsibility to set out a plan.’
President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Dr Camilla Kingdon said it is a ‘scandal’ that poor oral health disproportionately affects children living in the most deprived communities.
She said: ‘Today’s announcement that Labour will provide funding for a national targeted toothbrushing scheme for children is certainly positive. The evidence is clear that these schemes are effective and help to address inequalities.’
In 2016, a study found that GPs are having to deal with around 600,000 consultations annually for patients with dental problems due to spiralling NHS charges for dentists.
And last year, former RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall warned there is a ‘real threat’ general practice will face the same fate as dentistry in the UK – where a growing number of practitioners have gone private.
Over the summer, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he wants to give GP practices financial incentives to let patients see the same doctor every time.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.