It mainly focuses on preventative care and the expansion of the dental workforce.
The UK government on Wednesday (7 February) announced a new plan to ensure faster, simpler and fairer access to NHS dental care across England.
Supported by £200m of funding, the plan aims to deliver more than 1.5 million additional NHS dentistry treatments or up to 2.5 million NHS dental appointments for patients over the next 12 months
NHS dentists will be offered a ‘new patient’ payment of between £15-£50, depending on treatment need, to treat new patients who have not seen a dentist in two years or more.
Additionally, one-off payments of up to £20,000 will be given to around 240 dentists for working in under-served areas for up to three years.
This is to “attract new NHS dentists and improve access to dental care in areas with the highest demand,” NHS England said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Under this new major plan, the government would be launching a new ‘Smile For Life’ programme to promote good oral health in young children.
As part of this initiative, parents and parents-to-be will be offered advice for baby gums and milk teeth to ensure that every child sees tooth brushing as a normal part of their day by the time they go to school.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “NHS dentistry was hit hard by the pandemic and while services are improving – with 23 per cent more treatments delivered last year compared to the previous year – we know that for too many people, accessing a dentist isn’t as easy as it should be.
“That’s why we’re taking action today to boost the number of NHS dentists, help cut waiting lists and put NHS dentistry on a sustainable footing for the long-term.
“Backed by £200 million, this new recovery plan will deliver millions more NHS dental appointments and provide easier and faster access to care for people right across the country.”
Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom highlighted that “good oral hygiene and daily toothbrushing are vital to give every child a great smile for life,” and added that “this plan will ensure that healthy teeth and gums are available to everyone.”
Other measures to be taken under the recovery plan
Dental vans to be launched to help reach the most isolated communities.
The government is also starting a new water fluoridation programme to reduce the number of tooth extractions due to decay in the most deprived areas of the country. It will be initially rolled out across the North East to enable an additional 1.6 million people to benefit from water fluoridation, subject to consultation.
To strengthen the dental workforce, dental training places would be increased by up to 40 per cent by 2031/32, as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.
New measures will be taken to attract dentists to work in the health service, such as supporting more graduate dentists to work in NHS care and increasing the minimum value of activity to £28 from £23.
Victoria Atkins, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, reiterated that dentistry is a priority for the present government.
She acknowledged that people in rural and coastal constituencies, like Lincolnshire, were not able to get a dentist appointment, especially after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dentistry.
“We have seen big improvements over the past year, but now we are going much further.
“The long-term decisions we are taking will help ensure that good oral health is available to all, wherever you live and whatever your background,” she added.
NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said that this plan is a “significant step” towards transforming NHS dental services for the better.
People can check which practices in their local area are accepting appointments for new patients on the NHS website and the NHS App.
1 in 5 people avoid visiting a dentist due to cost
Bas Vorsteveld, Haleon Vice President and General Manager Great Britain and Ireland, expressed concern that dentistry is “under pressure” across the country and this is having a major impact on the oral health of the nation.
In a statement shared with Pharmacy Business, he cited the latest figures which showed that 1 in 5 people have avoided visiting the dentist due to cost, more than double the same time last year.
On the launch of the UK government’s dental recovery plan, he said, “It marks an important moment in attempts to reverse that trend and build a more inclusive and accessible NHS dental service.”
He suggested that efforts on prevention should be redoubled to tackle the major crises in the UK’s oral health.
“I’m pleased to see some steps in the Recovery Plan, such as the new ‘Smile for Life’ programme, which aims to tackle that.
“As a company we have extensive experience in this area, with our Aquafresh Shine Bright Academy, reaching kids in schools and showing them the benefits of better oral health.
“Focusing here is the way to sustainably improve oral health in the country and move pressure off oral health professionals,” he added.
Vorsteveld also highlighted that many oral health professionals are struggling to offer preventative advice due to short appointment times and lack of access to easy-to-share information.
In Haleon’s recent Dental Health Barometer, just one third of oral health professionals said they always offer preventative care advice to patients, he said.
“With this in mind, the industry needs to work together to provide preventative care advice at different touch points – beyond the dental chair.
“This will ensure preventative advice is accessible to all and help encourage long-term oral health across the UK,” he said.
The impacts of the funding and initiatives may take some time to be felt, but these are steps in the right direction with a long-term view, he added.