Health minister Ben Bradshaw has been heavily criticised for his comments that patients who cannot see a dentist should visit their GP for treatment instead.
The minister was speaking on BBC4’s Today programme, in response to a survey conducted by the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, an NHS feedback body. The findings showed that some patients were resorting to pulling out their own teeth because they could not get seen at an NHS dental practice.
Mr Bradshaw said: ‘There’s absolutely no reason why that should be the case because last year we introduced for the first time a duty on local services on the primary care trusts to provide urgent dental treatment for those who need it.
‘There’s absolutely no reason why that should be happening – if it is, if people are in pain or need urgent treatment they should go either to the GP or to the Primary Care Trust and demand what is now their right.’
Dr Andrew Mimnagh, chair of Sefton LMC, described Mr Bradshaw’s comments as ‘appalling’.
He said: ‘Regardless of the state of NHS dental practice, recommending that folk see their GP with a dental problem has never been part of the GMC. As a primary care specialist, you’d be expected to deal with those problems with the same facility as a primary care dentist, and clearly that’s impossible.
‘It is most unwise and reflects an appalling lack of knowledge about the various primary health care areas. It’s a somewhat insulting use of GPs as a sink for the nation’s ills. Having made such a statement, in a more honorable age it would have been followed by a resignation.’
Dr Stephen Green, head of risk management at the Medical Defence Union, added: ‘GP members have an ethical and contractual obligation to offer any treatment which they could be reasonably expected to provide in an emergency, and this includes patients with an urgent dental problem such as a dental haemorrhage.
‘However, GPs need to be aware that, under the Dentists Act 1984, the practice of dentistry is restricted to registered dental professionals, and those under training to become a registered dental professional.
‘Unless they are dually qualified as dental practitioners, GPs are unlikely to have the expertise to manage the full range of acute oral conditions, such as dental trauma, and it would be inappropriate to attempt to manage a condition requiring dental skills.’