Good health and wellbeing, for ourselves and our loved ones, is a foundation which we all need to thrive in life. Work, school, caring responsibilities and just day-to-day life can be difficult enough without the added complication of physical pain or a health concern. A pain-free life should not be reserved for those who have the money to pay for private health and dental care. For these reasons, the much publicised queue for a new Bristol NHS dentist is a story of both hope and despair.
After local residents campaigned for months to get their local dentist re-opened, finally this week St Pauls Dental Practice opened its doors. Good news! Campaigning works!
But the queue to register with this new practice, which started at 4am, snaking round the neighbourhood, filled with people who haven’t seen a dentist in years, and people who were taking their kids 40 miles to Swindon because that was the nearest NHS dentist they could find – is a stark sign of the state of dental healthcare in England, and of people’s desperation to get the healthcare they need and deserve.
The shortage of dentists in the city is so acute that it’s hard enough to find a dentist taking any new patients at all, never mind NHS ones. It speaks volumes about how the Tories have broken Britain.
But let’s not point the finger of blame at only the Conservatives. The rot set in way before they came to power. The universally despised dental contract was introduced by the Labour government between 2006 and 2010. Under this contract, dentists are not paid the full costs of NHS dental treatment because, for example, they are paid the same flat fee whether they give a patient one filling, or three. This means that dentists are financially punished for treating precisely those people who most need dental healthcare.
After Labour had introduced their ill-conceived contracts, then came the savage austerity cuts under the Coalition government. The amount spent on NHS dentistry has since 2010 fallen by over a third – a real terms cut of £1bn.
This is unacceptable and unnecessary in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
No one, least of all dentists and patients, believe that the dental recovery plan, with its paltry £200 million offer, will fill the giant hole in NHS dentistry provision. It doesn’t even touch the sides. The British Dentistry Association itself has described the plan as “rearranging the deckchairs” and will fail to halt the exodus from the workforce or offer hope to millions struggling to access care.
Being able to see a dentist has become a luxury available only to those who can afford to go private. It shouldn’t be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way. Dental treatment for those who need it is a basic need for good physical and mental health.
The Green Party is calling for a new approach, starting with new contracts for NHS dentists that cover the costs of care. That contract is going to require a significant funding increase in line with the calls being made by the British Dental Association. We need to review how dental care is delivered. I would like to see the next government consider moving towards a model where dentists are paid like GPs to provide care for registered patients and are incentivised to deliver far more preventative care. We all want to be spared the pain and expense of bad teeth.
This is something I will push hard for if I am elected as an MP in Bristol.
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