Opinion: MP Tom Hunt on need for dentistry school in Ipswich

6:00 AM October 14, 2022

This week in Parliament, Suffolk and Norfolk MPs brought the lack of access to NHS dentist appointments to the Chamber.

This is an issue which has been raised with me time and time again by constituents. I have written about it previously, and lobbied Ministers and the Secretary of State for better provision in our local area.

The simple fact of the matter is that we do not have enough dentists and dental technicians in Ipswich or in East Anglia generally.

Access to NHS dentist appointments is a pressing problem across the UK, but particularly desperate in East Anglia. The reason we have so few newly trained dentists choosing to live and work in East Anglia is because, currently, we have nowhere to train them locally.

Of the 10 training centres across the UK, none are in East Anglia. The closest is in Birmingham or London.

This means we aren’t training dentists locally, we aren’t offering opportunities for newly qualified dentists to progress professionally, and we aren’t attracting the skilled people we need to the local area to fill dentistry vacancies.

Graduates tend to build their lives close to their place of study. This is the case in dentistry too – the data shows that newly qualified dentists stay local to where they studied. On Wednesday in the chamber we discussed a new dental school in East Anglia in partnership with the University of East Anglia. This would enable and encourage graduates to stay local and work in our local NHS dental surgeries.

Once trained, it is imperative that recent graduates and trainees actually go on to work in the NHS and provide desperately needed NHS dental capacity and do not solely focus on private work which can be extremely costly. The model also plans to bring together training and provision in a coordinated way, like giving post-graduate training opportunities.

When I last wrote in depth about the problems with access to dentistry locally, I suggested that all dentists be obliged to work for the NHS for a minimum of 5 to 10 years after qualifying.

This is something I maintain would be a short-term solution to our current lack of capacity in the system. We need to ensure that, as well as training more dentists and allocating our dentistry team appropriately around the country, newly qualified individuals contribute to the NHS system rather than jumping straight into the private system or abroad.

A dental training college in Norwich could also work hand in glove with the proposed Centre for Dental Development in Ipswich further enhancing our access to dentists locally.

The Centre for Dental Development proposed by the University of Suffolk in Ipswich will include training for recently qualified dentists, as well as technicians to really encourage them to stay and practice in East Anglia. Both of these new centres would work hand in glove together and not only allow dentists to stay in East Anglia but offer mutual NHS support to each other in difficult times.

I was incredibly pleased to hear how positive the Minister for Health, Will Quince, was in speaking about the proposed Centre for Dental Development at the University of Suffolk.

While the plans for a new training centre in Norwich are currently under consideration as a long-term project, it was particularly heartening to hear the Department for Health and Social Care view the Ipswich Centre for Dental Development so positively as something that would complement the training centre in a quicker timeframe.

One of the main issues we currently see in so-called ‘dental deserts’ is lack of access to specialist care and complex procedures – the post-graduate training which Centres for Dental Development can provide focuses on increasing access.

Given that Centre focuses on postgraduate studies, and supports the transition from undergraduate to foundational training, it will be a decision making moment for dentists on where they will base their lives.

The centres not only draw dental students to the area, and incentivise them to live and work locally, but also work towards the aims of upskilling our dental workforce to support patients best.

I am also optimistic about the University of Suffolk’s dream of being a training centre for dentistry, too. In the long run, this would be phenomenal for Ipswich and for East Anglia.

The Centre for Dental Development is an excellent step forwards in making sure we allocate trained dentists to where they are most needed, and can provide upskilling and post-graduate training in the most desperate areas.

A training centre here too could be transformational.

Yes, we need more people trained as dentists locally, but we also need to ensure they stay working within the NHS – not moving to private practices immediately or going abroad after years training in the UK.

I would like to thank Minister Will Quince for his recognition of the work of Suffolk MPs like myself and Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, who have been pushing for local improvements to local dentistry provision, like the University of Suffolk’s Centre for Dental Development.


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