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NHS dental practices: Queues return

Queues return to NHS dental practices in England: The British Dental Association has described scenes of hundreds of patients queuing outside a Norfolk dental practice as belonging in the Soviet Bloc not in a 21st century health service, and pressed government to deliver urgent and meaningful reform.

Over 300 wannabe dental patients reportedly queued outside the Kings Lynn dental practice Smile Dental Care from 4am on Tuesday. It was a response to a one-line message on the practice’s website: “we will be taking on new NHS patients from 2nd May.”

Last week the government announced its intentions to develop a ‘recovery plan’ for NHS dentistry, which faces ongoing access and workforce crises. The move was slammed by the professional body and MPs, as merely being a ‘plan to have a plan’, and was announced just hours before the Department of Health and NHS England were set to defend the government record on NHS dentistry to a Health and Social Care Committee inquiry.

The discredited NHS contract dentists work to is fueling this crisis. If funds services for barely half the population and puts government targets ahead of patient care. Minor ‘tweaks’ to this contract rolled out late last year do nothing to improve access, or halt the exodus of dentists from the NHS, and had no additional funding attached. Queues have not been seen in England for a generation since the failed contract was first rolled out in 2006.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed that NHS dentistry is benefiting from more money, more dentists, and a ‘new’ contract. None of these claims is accurate. The service’s £3bn budget has been effectively static for over a decade, and there are fewer NHS dentists working today than in 2017/18.

Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee said:

“This is a wealthy 21st century nation, and dentistry is meant to be a core part of our NHS. But we’re now seeing scenes you’d expect outside bakeries in the Soviet Bloc.

“The crisis in dentistry is still with us and requires real urgency and ambition from government.”

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