I know residents are concerned about the challenges many of us are experiencing trying to access NHS dental care and I wanted to provide you with an update on the steps I have been taking as well as some reassurance that this is an issue that I will continue to work hard to improve.
I have had a number of meetings with local dentists to discuss the challenges they face as well as the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Integrated Care Board who are responsible for commissioning local NHS dental services to meet the needs of our area. I understand from these meetings that there are two primary challenges facing our local dentists.
The first issue faced by our dentists is the current Units of Dental Activity (UDA) system which is the system used to reimburse NHS dental work. Under the current system dental providers agree to perform a set number of UDAs and the annual contract value of this is paid in 12 monthly instalments.
Dental treatments are assigned a band based on the complexity and urgency of the treatment and each band is given a UDA value. A course of treatment is assigned one UDA value based on the most complex element rather than the number of treatments involved. This means that, for example, the treatment of fitting one crown is assigned the same number of UDAs as a treatment to fit eight crowns.
This system also means that if a dental provider does not meet their UDA target, they could be subject to a clawback of funds for not performing their agreed level of UDAs and if a provider reaches the limit of their UDA then patients must be sent elsewhere, even if there is still demand for treatments.
This system is clearly unfair and I am glad that ministers recognise this. The Government has been consulting extensively with the British Dental Association and others to reform the contract.
While these discussions are ongoing the Government has already taken some interim steps to help alleviate the situation including creating more bands for UDAs so that dentists are properly rewarded for taking on more complex care and increasing the UDA value for certain treatments.
The second issue that I know many of our dentists are facing is workforce and recruiting new dentists. Many of our local dentists I have spoken to have told me that they would be able to carry out more NHS work if they had the dentists to perform it.
As such I have been making representations to ministers in Government, including meeting directly with the Minister for Primary Care and Public Health to see what more can be done to improve recruitment numbers.
I am glad that the Government has committed through the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to increase dentistry undergraduate training places by 40%. Furthermore, last year the Government made legislative changes to allow the General Dental Council the flexibility to expand the registration options open to international dentists, creating an additional 1,300 places for overseas dentists aiming to work in the UK.
The Government is due to publish its Dentistry Recovery Plan shortly which will include further changes and improvements to NHS dental services. I want to assure you that I will continue to listen closely to our local dentists and ensure their concerns are relayed to government ministers who are bringing forward this plan.
I would encourage anyone who is struggling to find an NHS dentist to visit the NHS website at https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-dentist. It is a contractual requirement for dentists to update their information on the NHS website at least every 90 days to improve information available to patients and therefore even if you have looked previously, if you are still struggling, I would encourage you to check this site regularly.
Furthermore, anyone in need of urgent dental treatment can reach out to the Staffordshire Community Dental Service by dialling 0300 123 0981 or by contacting NHS 111.