Is the NHS dental contract outdated?

Recently statistics from NHS Digital have shown that 7.04 million less courses of treatment were delivered in quarter two of 2020-21 compared to the same quarter in 2019-20.

NHS England and NHS Wales have announced that over 2,500 NHS dental posts were lost across both countries, with 1,000 of those being dentists with some working across multiple practices.

Currently, NHS dentistry works by categorising treatments within three bands, from band one which covers a general check-up, diagnosis, x-rays and a scale and polish costing £23.80, all the way up to band three which covers more complex procedures such as crowns and dentures, costing £282.80.

This week in the house of commons two MPs, Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St Ives and Sir Robert Goodwill, the Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby voiced their concerns over NHS dentistry asking for the dentistry contract to be reviewed as “it is no longer fit for purpose”.

Derek Thomas, Conservative MP for St Ives said that the current issues with dentistry are “not about funding, it’s not about Covid, it’s not even about the lack of dentists. It is just that the contract that they work with is no longer fit for purpose”.

According to the Great British Oral Health Report 2021, it is estimated that ten million people are waiting for a routine dental check-up in the UK but with 85% of dental practices closed to new NHS patients many more are struggling to become register with a dentist at all.

The dental contract which came into force in 2006 introduced Units of Dental Activity (UDAs) which measure the practices’ activity and ensure the correct patient charges are collected. The Primary Care Trust England set targets which need to be achieved, if they are not then practices may have to pay penalty fees known as ‘claw back’.

Sir Robert Goodwill, Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby in the house of commons this week said: “Dentists tell me what would help is to have a date for the end of the UDA system, so they can start recruiting staff and in some cases start building new premises to deliver NHS dentistry to local people”.

In response, Maria Caulfield MP, Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care said that “the disastrous contract of 2006 is really putting perverse disincentives for NHS dentists to take on NHS work and that is something we have already started work on reforming”.

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