Labour unveils rescue plan for NHS dentistry, by staff reporter

Labour says it will provide an extra 700,000 urgent dentists appointments and reform the NHS dental contract, as part of a package of measures to rescue NHS dentistry.

In the first of the party’s policy announcements ahead of its conference in Liverpool, Labour is also pledging to introduce supervised toothbrushing in schools, and incentivise new dentists to work in underserved areas.

The plan will tackle the alarming decline of NHS dentistry, which has left millions of people unable to get a dentist’s appointment when they need one. New analysis of patient survey data suggests that 4.75 million people were denied an appointment with an NHS dentist in the past two years. Figures show millions of people were either told no appointments were available or that the practice they contacted was not taking on new patients.

This has led to the emergence of DIY dentistry, with 1 in 10 people having attempted their own dental work. Healthwatch England has reported horror stories of patients pulling their own teeth out with pliers.

The government is now overseeing a pilot where NHS dentistry will only be made available to children and the most vulnerable, which would be a huge scaling down of the service.

Labour says its plans will also address the issue of children requiring operations to have rotting teeth removed. 42,000 children went to hospital to have teeth removed in 2021/22, 26,700 of whom had tooth decay as their main diagnosis. Tooth decay is the most common reason for children aged 6-10 to be admitted to hospital. 1 in 3 children living in the most deprived areas of England suffer from tooth decay, and are three times more likely to have rotting teeth than kids in the least deprived areas.

Labour is promising to take immediate action to provide care for those in most urgent need, and long-term reform to restore NHS dentistry to all who need it. The party’s plans include:

• Funding NHS dental practices to provide 700,000 more urgent appointments, for patients in need of things like fillings and root canal.
• Incentives for new dentists to work in areas with the greatest need, to tackle the emergence of ‘dental deserts’ where no NHS dentists are taking on new patients
• Supervised toothbrushing in schools for 3-5 year olds, targeted at the areas with highest childhood tooth decay
• Reform the dental contract to rebuild the service in the long-run, so NHS dentistry is there for all who need it

The plans will cost £111 million a year in total and be funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status, which allows people who live and work in Britain to pay their taxes overseas.

Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party said: “People are finding it impossible to get an NHS dentist when they need one, with appalling consequences. Horror stories of DIY dentistry are too frequent.

“My Labour government will not stand for millions of people being denied basic healthcare.

“To rescue dentistry from the immediate crisis, we will provide 700,000 more appointments a year to those in the most urgent need, recruit more dentists to areas with the most severe shortages, and protect children’s teeth.

“But my mission led government will always do more than fix the basics. We will reform the dental contract to rebuild the service in the long-run, so NHS dentistry is there for all who need it.”