Will dentistry stay firmly on the political agenda? – Dentistry Online

Nigel Jones talks to Eddie Crouch about the recent Parliamentary debate regarding dentistry and what this might mean for the future of NHS dental care.

NHS targets and dentistry contracts have been the main talking point of 2021 after just a handful of days.

The new 45% targets for NHS dentists have caused shockwaves among the industry, so much so that the issue hit the benches of Parliament earlier this month with MPs expressing serious concern for dentistry.

Eddie Crouch, chair of the BDA’s principal executive committee was one interested party paying keen attention to what was going on in Westminster.

Practice Plan’s Nigel Jones caught up with him to gather his views on the debate and how things may change moving forward.

What were your overall thoughts on the parliamentary debate?

Eddie Crouch: Firstly, I must commend my colleagues who reached out to their MPs. And to the political staff at the BDA briefing speakers on issues dentistry is facing.

I believe members of the profession contacted over 80% of MPs. That is incredible.

There cannot be many MPs who do not realise that dentistry has some serious issues. That said, I think the minister was quite surprised by the voices expressing real concern. And the voices that came from the government front benches.

I had the chance to meet with the minister, Jo Churchill before Christmas to discuss the increase in activity levels. We managed to stall the 45% target with the view that NHS England would look at it again. NHS England did that and came back with the same number, which I do not agree with.

Whilst the minister stood up at the end and I think was really affected by the contributions, she was never going to make a U-turn at the dispatch box. That was never going to happen.

One encouraging thing though was that the minister spoke about coming up with solutions by working with the BDA. That is very welcoming.

Many colleagues are in desperate stress. They’re worrying about their financial position and financial penalties that could come at the end of the year.

Setting a target when the pandemic is at its worst is setting practices up to fail.

For many it will be like a cliff edge for them. The financial penalties could be huge. So working with the government on solutions that seek to ease this stress and worry is only a good thing.

The debate could have gone on all afternoon and things could have been thrashed out. But I hope that this debate means dentistry is firmly on the political agenda and will stay there. It needs sorting.

Following the debate, what do you think are the next steps in beginning to resolve the issues?

Eddie Crouch: Fundamentally, we want a collective approach. Many MPs voiced their criticism of NHS contracts pre-COVID. So it would be good to see some urgency within politics when it comes to developing NHS contracts.

It is not just the BDA raising the alarm. It is many others as well across the whole profession who say the targets are not achievable. Right now it is early days on the whole thing. But hopefully between now and the end of the financial year we’ll begin to get some movement.

The NHS says each practice is different and it will deal with each one individually. But NHS England has had a massive cut in its workforce in the last five years. It will have to deal with a large volume of cases brought by colleagues challenging their financial clawbacks. I don’t think NHS England understands just how many problems it is going to have to deal with.

In Parliament the discussions were primarily around the challenges the profession faces with Jo Churchill expressing disappointment at the lack of coverage for patients. What are your thoughts on this?

Eddie Crouch: We only exist as a profession to provide care for patients. Many colleagues were flat out before Christmas doing their best.

Yes, the volume of patients was significantly lower due to restrictions. But what we do not want to do is force more dentists to see more people.

We do not want to see the angle of care moving away from those who have serious problems. We have been banging on about this.

There needs prioritisation of care rather than increasing footfall. We need to see the right patients at the right time.

Patients have been incredibly understanding since we opened on 8 June. They understand the difficulties we face. But they have become more frustrated as they expect things to return to normal much quicker.

NHS England’s messaging around that has been inadequate. Many patients didn’t get a heads up that it was not a return to normal. It was left to dentists to explain.

Moving forward, what other issues do you think there will be between now and resolving the 45% target and contracts?

Eddie Crouch: There are huge concerns about the mental wellbeing of our profession, especially with dentists. This is a huge worry for me and everyone at the BDA.

Many of these people suffering will leave the profession because of the issue. There could be an impending problem with the workforce.

We have seen what happened with graduate dentists this year where they haven’t had the experience they need to qualify, and things are going to be delayed. Students with already huge overdrafts are entering the industry with financial problems from the outset.

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