MPs have accused primary care trusts (PCTs) of failing to spend their budgets to increase access to NHS dentistry.
More than 20 members have signed a Parliamentary motion which notes the ‘difficulties’ patients are having in seeing a dentist across the UK. But rather than blame the government, they say local health trusts are at fault.
The early day motion states: ‘Money has been made available from central government to increase the number of dentists accepting NHS patients but primary care trusts are not taking the necessary steps to apply these funds to improved access to dentists.’
It calls on ministers to ‘put pressure on primary care trusts in order to ensure that the funds it has made available are spent on providing better access to dentists for NHS patients within their respective local areas’.
The motion has been tabled by Lancashire MP Lindsay Hoyle, who told Dentistry the situation was ‘absurd’.
Mr Hoyle said: ‘PCTs have got the money so why aren’t they spending it to extend the number of NHS patients? They have got to recognise that where we have got constituencies where people can’t access NHS dentists that’s a major problem.
‘We want to be ensuring that where dentists are willing to take more patients we should fund it. That’s not happening and that’s what is wrong.’
The Labour MP, who represents Chorley, cited the example of Atherleigh Dental Practice in Adlington, in his constituency, which wanted to increase its number of NHS patients but had been denied funding by Central Lancashire PCT.
He said: ‘If it’s the government’s fault I would say so but in this case the PCT has sat on the money. I assume this is being replicated across the country. It’s absolutely absurd.’
Central Lancashire PCT said it was investing an additional £1.3 million in NHS dentistry to help tackle access problems. A PCT spokeswoman said: ‘This investment allows the PCT to focus on areas for oral health improvement and gives opportunities not only to improve access to an NHS dentist, but to develop more preventive approaches for patients.’
Health Minister Ann Keen said last month that she anticipated the area would see an increase in capacity by the end of the year. She said in a Parliamentary written answer: ‘Those patients that are on the dental access database will be contacted and asked if they wish to transfer to a dentist within their area.’
PCTs assumed responsibility for commissioning primary dental care services when the new contract was introduced on 1 April 2006. Ms Keen, in a separate Parliamentary answer, said funding allocations had been calculated to enable trusts not only to maintain levels of NHS commitment but to provide a stable base from which PCTs could plan the ‘further development’ of dental services. She said PCTs were also free to supplement provision for dentistry from within their overall NHS budgets where they considered this an ‘appropriate local priority’.
The minister added that NHS spending on primary care dental services in 2006/7 was more than £400 million higher than in 2003/4, an increase of 30%.
By Andy Tate, parliamentary correspondent