Following our Dentistry Question Time debate, Eddie Crouch considers if there is a future for NHS dentistry after the pandemic.
I think we’re definitely in unchartered waters at the moment. There’s so much uncertainty in the short term but the short term I think will have an impact on the long‐term sustainability of NHS provision.
The demand for patients who are struggling to access NHS patients has led to private practices being inundated with requests from patients. This will have a bearing on some practices who rely partly on the NHS and partly on the private on where they go.
We know that during recessions previously, private practice has taken a hit. It’s whether any future recession that comes from the circumstances – ie unemployment – will impact patient care.
With regards to NHS dentistry, I think this has given the opportunity for everyone to focus on where it needs to be targeted.
The messaging coming from the OCDO and the minister is that they are really concerned about the health inequalities that are there and whether NHS dentistry needs to do more to address this. I think the way that NHS England have gone about charging patients for NHS treatments has exacerbated the health inequalities. NHS dentistry is now very expensive for a lot of people.
I cannot see a point where NHS dentistry doesn’t exist. But looking at the future, it may look very different to what it looked like pre pandemic. It’s pretty clear that the prototyping of any new NHS contract is going nowhere fast at the moment.
I think the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England will look to create a different contract – hopefully with better incentives to take on the patients who need help. For example, those who are high need and vulnerable.
The focus of NHS dentistry can be to improve the oral health of the most deprived in the population.
I think part of the problem when it comes to health inequalities is that quite a significant part of the population are not regular attenders. And they’re not encouraged to attend because of a system of UDAs and patient charges.
They have found that gaining access at a time when they do have problems is not easy since practices reopened in June. That’s echoed by a lot of the surveys that have been carried out by bodies such as Healthwatch.
You can watch the full Dentistry Question Time debate here.
This interview was conducted on Wednesday 10 March 2021.
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