A £200m dental recovery plan is set to see millions of new appointments created, with dentists given the chance to earn extra money by seeing long-lost patients.
Under new plans, which have been published by NHS England (NHSE) and central government, dentists will be given a ‘new patient’ payment to see around one million people who have not had an appointment in over two years.
The payment will be between £15-£50 depending on the treatment needed, with the government planning a marketing campaign to promote dentists’ newfound availability.
Approximately 240 dentists will also be offered a one-off fee of up to £20,000 to work in under-served communities for up to three years. This coincides with the plan increasing the minimum value of activity to £28, from £23.
Those living in rural or coastal areas will benefit from so-called dental vans that will help the NHS reach the most isolated parts of the country. Patients will be able to view which practices are accepting new patients via the NHS website or app.
All told, the plan could open up an extra 2.5 million dental appointments over the next year, according to NHSE.
As well as improvements for the workforce, the plan also outlines a renewed focus on prevention in dentistry. A ground-breaking water fluoridation programme will be launched by the government to reduce tooth decay in the country’s most deprived areas.
NHSE says the scheme could help an additional 1.6 million people benefit from water fluoridation, with the first expansion set for the north east of England.
Last month saw a study led by the University of Manchester cast doubt over whether future water fluoridation schemes would lead to savings.
As part of the prevention drive, the government will roll out a new Smile For Life campaign, which will ensure current and soon-to-be parents are offered advice for baby gums and milk teeth. NHSE says the ultimate aim of this is to make every child see tooth brushing as part of their routine by the time they get to school.
NHSE’s chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, described dental recovery as a priority for the health service, with this plan representing a “significant step towards transforming NHS dental services”.
The NHS Confederation’s ICS network director, Sara Walter, said that while the plan is welcome, the “elephant in the room” is the national dental contract.
She said: “Increasing the payment for Units of Dental Activity (UDAs) is a step in the right direction, but may not go far enough in rethinking UDAs, particularly given high inflation. Radical reform of the contract is needed to fix the problems in dentistry for patients.”
Radical reforms are what the Nuffield Trust warned NHS dentistry needed late last year, with the think tank saying the sector was in its most perilous position ever.
Responding to the dental recovery plan, the Nuffield Trust’s chief executive, Thea Stein, said the measures are a welcome pull back from the brink, but they will not tackle the core problems.
“It is a much-needed scale and polish when what NHS dentistry needs is root canal treatment,” said Stein.
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