Tougher guarantees have been made about the long-awaited new dental contract – but there is still no hint when it will be introduced
Speaking at a Westminster reception, health minister Lord Howe said the shake-up would only go ahead once it made 'business' – as well as clinical – sense.
The minister told dentists that “remuneration” was another critical issue for the new contract, currently being tested out at 90 practices across England.
And he said: 'Any model we adopt must not just be right for clinical care, but also care that works for dental practices as a business – and care that is also cost effective.
'I am absolutely sure, on basis of the work we have already done, that it is doable. The experts on accomplishing all of that, for any system, have to be those who are going to operate it. That’s why we are focusing on receiving swift feedback from those 90 pilots on how that system works clinically – and how it works for those as a business.'
Lord Howe offered no clue when the contract would be introduced, although he referred to the Coalition Agreement, which implied it would arrive in this Parliament.
Instead, he pointed to improvements that could be made 'in the here and now' – listing tackling fluoride varnishes and high concentration toothpastes.
Lord Howe said: 'I’m always mindful that must not simply wait for a new contract to deliver on improving access to NHS dentistry, or for that to deliver better oral health.'
During the speech, to all-party parliamentary group for dentistry (APPG), the minister also:
• Announced a new taskforce to 'restructure oral surgery services', to improve outcomes and make services more cost-effective.
• Said a new group to improve care for 'vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups', under the leadership of Janet Clark, had met once – describing it as 'very exciting'.
Lord Howe also issued a strong defence of the overhaul of commissioning, which saw responsibility handed to NHS England, a new arms-length body.
Earlier this year, Lord Colwyn, a former dentist and leading member of the APPG, suggested it had been botched, raising fears about funding and expertise.
But Lord Howe insisted NHS England had a 'really firm grip on dental commissioning' and that 'relationships are very good' between the commissioner and dentists.
He praised the specialists at Public Health England (PHE) and argued dentistry was “strongly embedded” in Health Education England (HEE), which oversees the workforce.
Lord Howe said: 'Dentistry will, I’m sure, derive a great deal of benefit from it. Although it’s been quite a long haul to get to this point, I’m sure these arrangements – and the experience of the individuals involve – will be of great benefit to dentistry.'
Noting that Barry Cockcroft remained as chief dental officer, he said: 'When I look at the personnel, I’m very reassured we have got continuity there.'
By parliamentary correspondent Rob Merrick