NHS Building

No quick fixes for new government when it comes to NHS

The campaigning is over and the results are in, but will the new Labour government be able to make good their manifesto commitment to improve NHS services, including access to GPs and dental professionals?

With the difficulties being experienced in access to NHS dental treatment in particular, it’s encouraging to see that dentistry has been a key election issue. We can expect a raft of policy proposals in the months ahead as part of Labour’s dental rescue plan including a pledge to deliver 700,000 more NHS dental appointments.

We welcome this focus on improving NHS dentistry as 80% of dental professionals responding to our survey of members said they feel negative about the future of the NHS.  Every day, we hear from members that they desperately want to see things improve. Not being able to deliver the best care for their patients is putting them under morale distress.

96% of respondents to our survey said they want political parties to include plans in their manifestos to support the health and wellbeing of the workforce.

One dental professional commented: “There aren’t enough hours in the day. We are trying to give the best patient care we can, but we have so many patients, it is difficult and stressful.”

Only 17% of respondents said they always felt able to deliver optimal patient care. The impact of this was raised concerns about receiving a complaint or claim, poorer mental health and lower team morale.

Notably, 41% of respondents said they are planning to reduce their hours because of these pressures and 31% are planning to leave practice or retire.

Morale among dental professionals is clearly being affected by the current situation and it is no wonder the profession is looking for politicians to offer them more support with their own health and wellbeing needs.

Earlier this year, NHS England extended a programme whereby all clinicians would access mental health support from the NHS Practitioner Health programme, having earlier said secondary care clinicians would no longer be able to access the service. This was a welcome reversal and we call on the new government to commit to this support for the long term.

The government can also provide a morale boost on day one by reforming the legislation which underpins the work of the General Dental Council (GDC). This was the second most important dento-legal issue our members wanted the next government to focus on, after tackling access to NHS treatment.

Dental professionals have long been promised root-and-branch reform of how they are regulated. It’s time government finally delivers legislation that achieves that fairer, more proportionate, more timely method of regulating dental professionals.

Our political leaders need to find a way to improve access to dentistry and this means recruiting and retaining more dental professionals, but there are no quick solutions. It’s important the proposals brought forward are realistic and don’t lead to unforeseen consequences. After all, it is hardworking dental professionals who will be on the frontline of meeting people’s raised expectations of dental care.

Our members care for patients, but they also need healthcare leaders and the government to care for them.

See John Makin, head of the MDU’s sister company, the DDU, discussing the pressures on dental professionals in an interview on the Dentistry website: https://dentistry.co.uk/2024/07/03/general-election-2024-john-makin-calls-for-measured-solutions-in-dentistry/