Dentistry: high priority, big commitment, great expectations

The outcome of the General Election on 6 May meant that no single party was in a position to form a Government, and we now have the first coalition government in place since the Second World War.

Unlike previous years, when policy was based on the pre-election manifesto commitments of the single party with a Parliamentary majority, the policy for the new government is now set out in the coalition agreement.

Dentistry remains a high priority for the new government.

The coalition agreement says: ‘We will introduce a new dentistry contract that will focus on achieving good dental health and increasing access to NHS dentistry, with an additional focus on the oral health of schoolchildren.’

Speaking in the Queen’s Speech debate in the House of Lords, the new minister with responsibility for dentistry, Earl Howe said: ‘We will introduce a new dentistry contract that will focus on achieving good health and increasing access to NHS dentistry.

‘At this stage, we need to review the system that we have inherited. Once we have done this – and have talked to the professions and patient groups – we will announce the details of the reforms that we are proposing.’

Earl Howe has already met representatives from the British Dental Association (BDA) and his commitment to introducing a reformed NHS dental contract is backed up by a commitment to pilot significant system change.

The new minister, who was shadow minister of health in the House of Lords from 1997 to 2010, has reiterated the importance he places on dentistry in his portfolio and is keen to see a system emerge which focuses on health outcomes and value for money for the taxpayer.

In his meeting with the BDA, Earl Howe confirmed he would like to develop a system based on registration, capitation and quality.

The new minister is also aware of the warm reception the publication of Professor Steele’s report of NHS dental services received from stakeholders and the significant interest in being involved in pilots has generated in both the NHS and dental providers.

He will be meeting Professor Steele in the near future, and is reviewing his report.

Everybody is aware of the significant financial challenges facing the public sector, but the coalition government has committed to ongoing increased real terms funding for the NHS but a significant reduction in management costs.

The real prize is to produce a system which offers better access to NHS dentistry for patients, better health outcomes for these patients, better value for money for taxpayers, and does not increase the burden of paperwork to such an extent that it impinges on the delivery of clinical care.

The White Paper, ‘Equity And Excellence: Liberating the NHS’, sets out the government’s strategy for this.

The White Paper reiterates the government’s commitment to introduce a new dentistry contract following consultation and piloting.

It proposes that a new NHS Commissioning Board will take over responsibility for commissioning dentistry. We are now developing plans to take forward these proposals.

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