Labour co-created the NHS dentist shortage but will it fill the gaps?

Labour co-created the NHS dentist shortage but will it fill the gaps?

Labour co-created the NHS dentist shortage but will it fill the gaps? The party’s latest promise suggests it will try – but we all know Keir Starmer’s words are worth nothing.

Starmer is promising to create 100,000 extra dental appointments for children on evenings and weekends, for urgent and emergency care – along with (among other changes) reform of dentists’ contracts in order to boost numbers.

How magnanimous of the party that originally made it impossible for dentists to make a decent living on NHS work, back in 2006!

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I refer you to the following, which This Site quoted from a Novara Media article last year:

Perhaps the most significant government contribution to the current crisis in British dentistry dates back to 2006, when Tony Blair introduced a new contract between the NHS and its dentists. Prior to that point, dentists were paid for each piece of work they did. As a result of the 2006 reform, dentists are now paid for a certain number of “units of dental activity”, with little distinction made between complex operations and simple treatments. If they don’t complete nearly all of this work (96%), dentists have to pay back some of their fee. But this is complicated by the fact that the total amount of work they can do is itself capped, meaning that if they do too much work, they have to turn patients away. The result is that many NHS dentists find themselves unable to make a decent living due to the low pay involved in dentistry (45% reported a decline in NHS pay since 2020), not to mention chronically overworked: 87% have felt symptoms of stress and anxiety in the past year.

So Labour created the crisis with a stupid contract. It’s good that Starmer is trying to fix this, but dishonest of him not to admit that this is the root cause of the problem.

Instead, he has blamed the Conservatives for an alleged 540,000 fall in the number of children seeing an NHS dentist last year, in comparison with 2018. This figure, also, is misleading because the number of child appointments has been recovering steadily since 2021, after falling far during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That being said, Tory (and Liberal Democrat) austerity is the other element that has turned dentists away from the NHS – as the Novara article made clear:

The real reason for this understaffing… was austerity: the government has slashed funding for NHS dental services by 8% in real terms since 2010. In 2013, David Cameron placed a hard cap on the number of trainee dental places his government would fund (the cap was lifted briefly in 2020-21, but was reimposed in 2022 and remains in place despite the current crisis).

So Labour’s claims, while partially accurate, are mostly untrue – certainly untrue enough for This Writer to say Starmer and his shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting are lying about the underlying causes of the problem.

The Tories themselves have no plan to reform dentists’ contracts or remove the cap on trainee places, and are merely offering cash incentives for dentists to take on NHS patients.

Given Labour’s lies and the Tories’ continued austerity, perhaps it would be better to support other parties that are offering to reform the NHS contract – not the Liberal Democrats, perhaps, after they helped the Tories cut funding during the Coalition years (2010-15),

But the Green Party is offering to reform the contract and give everyone access to an NHS dentist and the Workers Party (WPGB) has yet to comment on the subject (to This Writer’s knowledge at the time of writing).

Voters may prefer to support one of them – or an Independent candidate – with a clear conscience.

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