The government’s £50m fund to tackle the backlog of dental appointments is ‘virtually unusable’, warns MP for Bradford Judith Cummins


Bradford South MP Judith Cummins told a debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday that a government scheme announced last month to help provide more dental appointments is effectively “unworkable”.

She said the owner of a dental practice in her constituency told her the rules around access to money involved “either persuading an already overstretched workforce to work overtime or recruiting new employees, or hire costly replacements – all to be delivered by March 2022”.

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In January, NHS England announced that £50 million would be made available to guarantee up to 350,000 additional dental appointments “allowing people with pain, disease and oral infections to get the care what they need”.

There are growing concerns about the state of access to dentistry across the country.

As part of the funding allocation, the Yorkshire and Humber region is to receive £8.6 million. Dental practices are currently being ordered to operate at 85% of their pre-pandemic contract activity.

But Ms Cummins said there were major question marks over the effectiveness of the scheme, with Bupa raising similar concerns to the owner of the local dental practice.

“To be eligible for the funds, dentists must first have reached the thresholds of their NHS contract, a system which excludes practices which have treated a large number of patients with urgent needs, or who have faced an increase in the sick staff and patients, or who have struggled to recruit staff who are ready to do NHS work,” she said

“Only 134 of Bupa’s 306 practices were eligible according to the criteria. Of these 134, only two so far have felt able to accept the additional funding.

She added: “Clearly this funding package is not new funding – it is drawn from the £169m that was recovered from contract holders in 2020/21 for not reaching contractual objectives.

“In my opinion, recovery is a failure of the system.

“It is not a failure of the NHS to spend the money allocated through budgets, but a failure to properly target resources to where they are needed, such as in my constituency in Bradford South and in the district of Bradford.

“The government shouldn’t expect applause for creating an emergency care funding fund that simply can’t be spent in the time allotted, or where it’s most needed, by because of the conditions that have been attached.”

She said current funding commitments are not sufficient, with the British Dental Association estimating it would take £880m a year just to restore NHS dental budgets to 2010 levels.

Ms Cummins added: “Chronic underfunding and the current contract are at the root of the long-standing problems of burnout, recruitment and retention in NHS dental services, with almost a thousand dentists leaving the NHS in England in the last financial year.”

Health Minister Maria Caulfield insisted there had been “good use” of the new £50million fund to reduce dental backlogs.

“We know that it will cover the period until the end of this financial year to buy urgent capacity for the system and to help provide more than 300,000 appointments that cannot currently take place.

“Regions across the country are signing up and because payments to dentists are much better than under the current contract, there is an appetite among dentists.

“It shows that if we pay dentists adequately, they have an interest in taking on the work of the NHS.”

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Backlog of dental appointments set to worsen as MPs outline dire situation…

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