People give up on dentist appointments because waiting lists are too long

People have given up on trying to get a dentist appointment because the waiting lists are just too long, a Cornwall MP has claimed. St Ives and West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas believes it is high time the NHS dental contract is overhauled because he believes it is not working out for local people.

Mr Thomas has been campaigning to see a new contract for NHS dentists since before the pandemic as he believes because the current NHS dental provision in the Duchy is not up to scratch. The Cornish MP presented the findings of a survey of dentistry patients in his constituency he has carried out since January.

He said: “The picture that came out of my survey was shocking. Nearly half had been waiting over three years for an appointment. Many constituents don’t show up on the waiting lists, because they have given up on waiting.” He added: “Tweaks to the existing system are not enough when the contract is fundamentally flawed.”

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Mr Thomas said the root cause of the crisis stems from the NHS dental contract. There has been cross-party consensus that it needs to be changed, agreement from the British Dental Association with more than 11,000 people signing a petition asking for the system to change.

Despite all that Mr Thomas said the Government had been to slow to move. He added: “I already had a good indication of how significant the lack of dentistry was across my constituency, but to grasp the detail and the scale of it, I posted a survey at the beginning of the year asking constituents about the problems they had faced in accessing NHS dentistry. Within a day, it had received more responses than any other survey I had run—more than surveys on bus services, post office closures, noise pollution, or whether the Cornish flag should appear on a Cornish numberplate.

“Some people tried DIY solutions. Looking up how to make temporary fillings on YouTube was commonplace. One of my constituents pulled one of his own teeth out himself.” The West Cornwall MP said the situation is particularly grave in the Duchy. Only last week, NHS England and NHS Improvement presented a report to Cornwall Council showing that in 2020-21 only 24% of the dental activity commissioned in Cornwall was delivered.

In 2021-22, it has increased, but only to 59%. According to the NHS England figures the total number of adults with access to an NHS dentist dropped from 188,000 in June of last year to 155,000 in December.

Derek Thomas added: “The current system does not focus on prevention. When Units of Dental Activity are the sole measure of contract performance, there is no incentive for preventive work. The system does not properly reward dentists for the work they do. A dental practice will be paid the same for a simple extraction as for an entire course of treatment, which means that when a patient has complex needs they do not even cover their overheads.

“The predictable result is that dental practices are moving away from NHS work.”

Mr Thomas said a that despite a dentists recruitment drive in the South West, a key challenge in Cornwall is finding housing for those who want to take up a job in the industry. The government said it had allocated £50 million to improve dentistry services in the country but 9% of that funding (£4.8m )will got to the south-west, which includes Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.

Maria Caulfied, the Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care, told the House: “We are taking this issue extremely seriously. To answer the question put by the Member for St Ives, the contract changes that we are going to announce will not be the end of it, because there is more reform that we need to do. The Secretary of State is looking at a wider piece of work to provide a long-term, sustainable solution.”

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