The British Dental Association (“BDA”) has warned that NHS dentistry, as we know it, in Wales could soon disappear. Dentists in Wales have described being on the brink of handing back NHS dentistry contracts due to stress and concerns about patients’ care after the Welsh government introduced changes in July 2022. The BDA sent an open letter to the government on 20 January 2023 criticising the Welsh government, warning it that the new changes and contracts will force practices to leave the NHS.
What has happened with NHS dentistry in Wales?
In July 2022 the Welsh government announced changes to the NHS dentist system. This included changes to NHS patients previously requiring a check-up every 6 months, amending this to now only occurring once a year. The Welsh government implemented this change in order to free up capacity and allow NHS dentists to take on new patients amidst a growing number of people unassigned to a NHS dentist. The aim of the changes to check-ups from six months to 12 months was to allow practices to take on up to 112,000 new NHS patients a year. The BDA claims that this change is to the detriment of those who are already registered at practices. This is because there is no ‘additional appointments’ and therefore it is merely taking away appointments from those who were already registered in order to achieve unrealistic and arbitrary figures set by the government. The BDA has also accused the Welsh government of not sharing the data that has led to the changes, therefore limiting the BDA’s ability to scrutinise the decision making and rationale that influenced the changes. The Welsh government said, of 112,000 new dental appointments being made available, as a result of these changes, 109,000 had been taken up.
What has been said?
The decision has been heavily scrutinised. In the open letter dated 20 January 2023 the chairman of the BDA’s Welsh General Dental Practice Committee, Russell Gidney, said:
“The government’s failure to examine the real-world impact of these new, untested targets will force many practices to withdraw partially or wholly from NHS dentistry, given the unreasonable business risks they alone are having to bear as result of the experimental contract reform conditions. The fate of NHS dentistry is in the balance. We have warned repeatedly over the last year that we face potential catastrophic collapse of NHS dentistry in Wales directly because of the way contract reform has emerged from the pandemic, and the lack of responsiveness by government.”
A spokesperson for the Welsh government said, while it was “always disappointing” when a dentist reduced or terminated their NHS contract, “less than 20 out of over 400 contracts” have been handed back this year. A spokesperson for the Welsh government also said:
“We continue to work the BDA to explore how the reform of the national dental contract can encourage dental practices to collaborate and best respond to the dental and oral health needs of their communities. The £2m annual funding to improve access to NHS dentistry across Wales will allow health boards to fund dental services based on local needs and issues.”