The shake-up of the way NHS dentistry services are commissioned has been botched, a Conservative peer – and former dentist – warns
Baron Colwyn intervened in the Lords to highlight alarm about the overhaul that saw responsibility switch to the new centralised organisation,NHS England.
The peer told ministers that:
* Dentists did not know who to liaise with in the 27 new ‘area teams’ set up by NHS England.
* The teams had failed to 'develop a consistent approach for working with local dental committees', which were key to providing up-to-date local information.
* There were fears that local networks were not receiving the funding necessary to provide the 'detailed clinical advice' that NHS England expected.
* Public Health England – another new body – had too few dental experts to deliver on promises that the shake-up will improve oral health.
During debate on the Queen’s Speech, Baron Colwyn, who worked as dentist from 1965 to 2005, said most dentists supported the changes.
But he warned: 'All of these teething troubles will need to be addressed if the Government wants the NHS reforms to deliver real improvements to the population’s oral health.”
The shake-up began in April – with the abolition of primary care trusts (PCTs) – covering all dentistry, including out of hours and urgent care.
NHS England is expected to commission services based on a local 'needs assessment' carried out by public health teams, based in local authorities.
It tried to counter accusations of over-centralisation by setting up the 27 ‘area teams’, to 'ensure close contact with patients, the public and key commissioning partners'.
NHS England has since set up a task group to improve dental services for 'hard-to-reach groups', something Lord Colwyn described as 'a very welcome initiative'.
The peer also urged ministers to tackle urgently the critical shortage of foundation training places for dental graduates.
He said: 'It cannot be right that, this year, 185 applicants – many of whom will have studied in UK dental schools at a cost to the public purse in the region of £155,000 each – will have to endure months of anxiety that their career in dentistry is over before it has even started.
'Without this training, it will not be possible for any of these students to take up jobs providing NHS dentistry after they graduate.
'I hope it will be possible to find a long-term solution to this issue, so that future dental students will be spared deep uncertainty.'
However, Lord Colwyn had warmer words for the new dental contract, saying: 'So far, the feedback from staff and patients taking part in the pilots has been largely positive.
'I hope that it will not be too much longer before the department is in a position to begin discussions with the profession on the details of the new contract.'
By parliamentary correspondent Rob Merrick