Written evidence submitted by Sarah Olney MP (DTY0090)
As the Member of Parliament for Richmond Park, I am regularly contacted by constituents who are unable to access NHS dentistry services.
I am submitting evidence to this inquiry on behalf of my constituents and local healthcare providers. This evidence is informed by constituent correspondence and by conversations that I have had with dentists, patients, healthcare providers and Healthwatch Richmond.
The Government must focus on improving access to NHS dentistry.
Many constituents of Richmond Park are unable to register with an NHS dentist. Healthwatch Richmond regularly refers patients to dental services outside of London so that they can receive care through the NHS. Healthwatch also reports that only 2% of dentists nationwide are taking on NHS patients.
Richmond upon Thames has the lowest funding for NHS dentistry in London, apart from the City of London. Despite the Government announcement of an additional £50 million funding for dentistry across England, the picture in Richmond remains challenging and I understand that no dentists had notified NHSE that they were taking on new patients in Richmond as of October 2021. Healthwatch Richmond also found that private patients were 16 times more likely to be able to access treatment.
The allocation of funding for NHS dentistry must be assessed to ensure that it corresponds to local need. Richmond is an affluent borough, but there remain pockets of high deprivation and a large demand for dental services from those who cannot seek treatment in the private sector.
NHS website improvements
I would also like to draw the Committee’s attention to the submission from Healthwatch Richmond, which highlights the importance of improving the functionality of the NHS website to enable people to search for NHS dentists offering appointments that match their needs. Constituents often contact my office, and Healthwatch Richmond, after failing to locate a dentist service through the NHS website.
The search function on the NHS website only returns the nearest 50 dental practises, regardless of their capacity to take on NHS patients. Due to a shortage of dentists taking on new NHS patients, this means that the search function often fails to return a viable result.
Above all, the plan to address the current crisis must have a long-term focus and be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
There needs to be more local oversight of dentistry services. Local healthcare leaders in my constituency inform me that they would welcome dentistry and optometry services being brought into the remit of Southwest London ICS. However, this should only happen if the necessary funding from central Government is provided.
ICSs could play a pivotal role in increasing capacity of NHS Dentistry, by being able to use other healthcare facilities and resources within their provision to offer dentistry services. This could reduce distances that patients must travel to access care, as well as wait times.
However, the involvement of ICSs should not mean that they simply inherit the crisis in NHS Density and subsequently take on responsibility for resolving it. There must be a thorough assessment conducted of the extent to which ICSs are able to improve services, which may differ between regions.
Children in low-income families
Tooth decay is consistently the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children and children from the most deprived areas are already three times more likely to have hospital extractions than their peers.
In order to improve access to dental services for children, especially those in low-income families:
Does the NHS dental contract need further reform?
Yes. According to the British Dental Association “reform of the dysfunctional NHS dental contract is now a matter of urgency”. The current quota-based system penalises dentists for taking on patients with high needs, and they are often not properly reimbursed for the work they do for NHS patients. This encourages many to return their NHS contracts and focus solely on private patients.
The NHS dental services contract needs to be reformed, and supplemented by increased funding, to ensure patient demand is met and dentists are incentivised to take on NHS patients.
The British Dental Association have done extensive research and set forward detailed proposals on possible reforms to the NHS dental contract.
A few proposals related to the above: