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Today’s Daily Telegraph publishes a letter signed by a number of leading figures in dentistry complaining of the damage being done to NHS dental services in England and the consequent damage to patients’ teeth as a result of the current NHS contracting arrangements. The letter is also referred to in an article elsewhere in the paper underlining the points made in the letter.
The letter is the result of growing concerns about the long term consequences of the 2006 contract introduced under the last Labour Government, a set of rules, output scoring targets and payment arrangements that have been savagely criticised from the very beginning. Charges are made against the Department of Health of fudging the treatment statistics and the state of children’s oral health. The failure of the service to tackle a massive periodontal disease problem in the adult population is also highlighted.
The wording of the round robin letter has been agreed by those signing it over the last few days by correspondents who frequent the GDP-UK website and blog, a site that has become increasingly influential amongst primary care dental practitioners. The high level of child admissions to hospital for dental procedures (almost always young children who require the extraction of significant numbers of decayed baby teeth as well as permanent teeth) – the third most likely reason for a child to be so admitted – is said to demonstrate in the most visible way possible that the improvement in oral health claimed by the DoH may well be illusory for many youngsters who come from deprived backgrounds and an NHS service that does very little to seek out those children and offer them the preventive care and treatment they need.
The response elicited from the Chief Dental Officer, Barry Cockcroft, is typically dismissive of anyone who dares to challenge his NHS orthodox line that all is well in the world of dental health and there is nothing to worry about, on the contrary, the DoH is set to reduce the numbers of dentists being trained in English Universities on the grounds that we have too many already.
It seems unlikely that this argument will be finally won or lost by either side for many years to come.