Better access to NHS dental services under new reforms

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Patients across the country will now benefit from improved access to dental care under changes announced by NHS England.

The new reforms will ensure that dentists, who are operating at full capacity for the first time in two years, will be able to recover dental services following the impact of the pandemic.

The reforms to the dental contract – the first in 16 years – mean NHS dentists will be paid more for treating more complex cases, such as people who need three fillings or more.

Dental therapists will also be able to accept patients for NHS treatments, providing fillings, sealants, preventative care for adults and children, which will free up dentists’ time for urgent and complex cases.

To make services more accessible for people, dentists must update the NHS website and directory of services so patients can easily find the availability of dentists in their local area.

High-performing dental practices will have the opportunity to increase their activity by a further 10% and to see as many patients as possible.

In March last year, the Government asked NHS England to lead on the next stage of dental system reform to deliver better outcomes for patients and better support dentists.

The reforms will ensure that dentists, who are operating at full capacity for the first time in two years, will be able to recover dental services following the impact of the pandemic.

Chief Dental Officer for England Sara Hurley said: 

“The NHS is determined to overhaul dental provision, with a focus on increasing access to necessary dental care and supporting prevention, today’s reforms are the first step on that journey.

“NHS dental staff are working hard to recover services, but the key to delivering this will be reform – these changes announced today will help teams carry out even more treatments and help address the inevitable backlogs that have built up during the pandemic.

“Anyone with concerns about their dental health should contact their local dentist as they usually would or seek advice from NHS 111.”

“Infection prevention and control measures to protect staff and patients were introduced during the pandemic, limiting the number of procedures that NHS dentists could carry out.”

NICE guidance states that dental teams should see patients for an oral check-up based on their health risk which can be once every two years instead of every six months – this will ensure appointments are given to those most in need.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: 

“Improving patient access to NHS dental care is a priority and these changes are an important step, while also rewarding dentists more fairly for providing more complex care, allowing the best performing practices to see more patients and making better use of the range of professionals working in the sector such as nurses, hygienists, and dental therapists.

“The NHS commits around £3 billion to dentistry each year and we provided unprecedented support, including £1.7 billion, during the pandemic to protect teams and patients by paying dental practices for the work they would normally have carried out if it were not for Covid regulations.”

The NHS published six aims of dental system reform which have been endorsed by the British Dental Association and the NHS continues to work with the sector to reform NHS dentistry.

NHS England will now move towards the next phase of engagement to introduce wider reforms that benefit patients and staff.

Chris McCann, Director of Communications, Campaigns and Insight at Healthwatch England, said: 

“This announcement shows the power of the voices of thousands of patients who have spoken up in the last few years about their need to see an NHS dentist. The NHS is listening and taking action. The changes will make it is easier for people to see which dentists are taking on new NHS patients. Those with more complex dental problems should also have better access to care because of the shift in how the NHS pays dentists. Ultimately we hope these combined measures will end long waiting times, the extended periods of pain many people suffer, and the extreme cases of DIY dentistry we have seen. However, these reforms need to be just the start if we are to create an NHS that is able to deliver good dental care for all.”

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