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CEO of Leading London Dentists Calls for More Support for NHS Dentistry

The CEO of three of the largest dental clinics in London is calling for an overhaul of NHS dentistry, arguing that new plans recently announced by the Government do not go far enough.

NHS England announced millions more were to be offered dental appointments under the NHS Dental Recovery Plan, thanks to a major new plan to ensure easier and faster access to NHS dental care across England.

Dr Bharat Patel, CEO of  Dental Care Centre, Dulwich Dental Office and Camden High Street Dental, is calling for further support for NHS dentists and claims the NHS Dental recovery Plan is ‘more like a booster rather than fully-fledged reform’, with many of the supposed new measures already in place.

Dr Patel said: “NHS dentistry has been playing catch up well before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all dental practices throughout the country, leaving patients without access to a NHS dentist.

“The new plan adds to the existing system which is highly debated within the dental community. It is without doubt that we have some of the best qualified dental surgeons in the UK, and NHS dentistry in practice is a vital part of allowing young dentists to develop and hone their clinical expertise on the most basic of treatments. However the banding system that categories treatments, and therefore patients into fixed bands, creates a dilemma for dentists on a daily basis on how to prioritise individual treatment on a patient and even between patients.  

“Do dentists prioritise their existing patients for routine care, or do they prioritise a dental emergency on a new patient that they have never seen before, having to rearrange their day and reschedule existing patients?”

In areas where NHS dentists are in short supply, the government is offering up to £20,000 for up to three years’ work in a bid to attract dentists to areas where they are desperately needed. Dental Vans have also been proposed in rural populations to help reach the most isolated communities. 

On this, Dr Patel said: “Incentivising dentists in areas where NHS dentists are sought is also nothing new and something the private sector has tried and failed to do for years.  

“The proportionality of earning to the bonus of £20,000 are mismatched and an extra £20 a day is unlikely to convince a dentist to travel or relocate to those locations where dentists are in shortage.  Furthermore, dentistry requiring an average of eight hours a day of surgical focus limits the distance a dentist can realistically travel to work without impacting on their performance.

“The reforms state the public will be able to see which NHS dentists are taking on patients through a NHS website, however such technology already exists. The flaws will still be present in that it relies on individual practices to log into the NHS portal and update their status on accepting patients or not, something which is unlikely to change the status quo as most clinics do not regularly update this.

“There is no doubt that mobile dental surgeries are feasible and have been trialled in the past, however the mainstream issue of not attracting dental surgeons to work with them is further compounded by an environment that will be compact to work within and lack the multi-disciplinary support that dental practices thrive and develop on, within a team.”

The government’s ‘SMILE4LIFE’ programme of initiatives are designed to improve dental access and oral health in England, complemented by communication and engagement activities to raise awareness of oral health issues and promote healthy dental habits.

Dr Patel added: “Offering advice to parents about baby gums and milk teeth is nothing new. Prevention is actually the most consistent and strongest armamentarium of dental surgeons, primarily due to some of the most thorough undergraduate programmes, and consensus opinion on prevention.”  

Dr Patel welcomes the plans to increase university dental places and claims that it will have a positive long-term impact on the industry.

“Dentistry is known to be one of the hardest and most competitive undergraduate programs in the country. Increasing the number of places will not only boost future generational dentistry but allocate much needed funding to dental teaching hospitals.”

Dr Patel concludes that while it is welcomed NHS England are recognising dentistry as a vital part of their priorities, for any real change to access and quality of dentistry, there needs to be a fundamental understanding that an overhaul is needed and not regular ‘band-aids’.

He added: “There is only so much an approach like the one proposed can improve services. If there is a genuine desire to keep NHS dentistry as a leading beacon within the UK and Europe it requires a matching investment that recognises that dentistry in practice is a surgery not akin to hospitals. Subcontracting surgery to a general dental practice clinic cannot be done at a cut-price if the world-class standards we strive for are to be maintained.”

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