Dentists criticise ‘misleading’ claims that shake up will create more appointments
Dentists have criticised the shake-up of NHS dentistry in Wales which will see patients move to yearly check-ups, rejecting claims it will free up more appointments.
Wales’ new chief dental officer, Andrew Dickenson, said scrapping the “outdated” practice of recalling people for check-ups every six months would allow practices across Wales to see up to 112,000 new patients a year.
The British Dental Association (BDA) called these claims “misleading” and said it is being used to mask a “failure to invest in NHS dentistry”.
Russell Gidney, the BDA’s Welsh General Dental Practice Committee chair, said: “The Welsh Government is attempting to conjure up new appointments without meaningful investment. Sadly, these claims look like they were cobbled together on the back of an envelope.
“Dentists have worked to similar guidelines for the best part of two decades. The fact is it could take a dozen healthy patients forfeiting annual check-ups to allow one new high-needs patient to be seen.
“Patients across Wales are facing an access crisis, while demoralised dentists are leaving the service in droves. These problems will not be solved with empty soundbites and misleading numbers.”
In March, BDA Wales called for an increase in funding from the Welsh Government amid accusations of “historic underfunding” compared to the rest of the UK.
Figures released by the Welsh Conservatives earlier in the year revealed government spending on NHS dentistry in Wales was £47 per head prior to the pandemic, compared to £55 in Scotland and £56 in Northern Ireland. England has the lowest spend in the UK, with the amount of dentistry commissioned by NHS England reduced by more than 2 million units between 2010 and 2020 as UK Government contributions per head fell from £41.79 to £34.53.
Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: “I welcome the move towards annual check-ups at the dentist and I do think it will help with easing the backlog in NHS dentistry without seriously impacting on patients.
“However, this is the pragmatic solution to a problem exacerbated by the Labour Government itself from years of underfunding compared to other devolved nations and failing to prepare for demand that was always going to build up during the pandemic, the consequences of which are clear to see through the NHS.
“We’ve been saying for months that this attitude towards dentistry – in conjunction with the derided contracts Labour ministers are dishing out – will lead to dental deserts across Wales, leading to people forking out thousands to go private or having to rip out their own teeth.”
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said: “While I broadly welcome today’s practical announcement on check-up’s, Labour should have never allowed it to get to this point.
“This announcement from the Welsh Government does nothing to address the serious staffing crisis in the sector which is the main problem in terms of clearing backlogs.
“Research by the Liberal Democrats shows that 14% of dentists in Wales are set to retire soon, with the figure being as high as 20% in some health boards.
“We must get to grips with the staffing crisis if we are to tackle the sky-high waiting times for NHS dental treatment.”
The voluntary changes announced by the Chief Dental Officer have been introduced by the Welsh Government by varying the current Units of Dental Activity (UDA) contract system which has been used in England and Wales since 2006 and was deemed “unfit for purpose” by the UK Government’s Health Select Committee.
Children and young people under 18 will continue to be offered check-ups every six months, he said.
More than two-thirds (78%) of all NHS dental practices have voluntarily signed up to the changes, and have therefore been given a small target of “new patients” to see.
They will be required to open up slots for new patients, which are defined as people who have not yet registered with a dentist, and those who are registered but have not been seen by their dentist in more than four years.
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