Dentist Sunak visited to promote ‘recovery plan’ not taking NHS patients

Politics

The dentist Rishi Sunak visited in Cornwall to promote his “recovery plan” is not accepting new NHS patients, it has emerged.

The prime minister met staff and patients at Gentle Dental in Newquay on Thursday.

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He told broadcasters that “it hasn’t been easy enough for people to access NHS dentistry over the past couple of years” but claimed “the announcements this week will make a significant difference, and quickly”.

“It’s a very significant new investment in dentistry so that everyone can get the access that they need,” Mr Sunak said.

But the practice’s website states that it is not taking on new adult NHS patients or those entitled to free dental care.

Eddie Crouch, the chair of the British Dental Association (BDA), said: “Rishi Sunak is seeing what life is like for millions across this country. The difference is he has options.”

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The BDA has been critical of Mr Sunak’s “dental recovery plan”, saying it is “unworthy of the title” and “not new money”.

Image:
Rishi Sunak talking to staff and patients during a visit to Gentle Dental practice in Newquay, Cornwall. Pic: PA

The £200m package of measures, unveiled on Wednesday, will see dentists offered cash to accept new NHS patients and given £20,000 “golden hellos” to work in under-served communities.

Mobile dental teams will also be deployed to schools in under-served areas to give 165,000 children preventative fluoride varnish treatments to strengthen their teeth and prevent decay.

But leading dentists said the recovery package will not be enough to help people struggling to access dental care.

Image:
Rishi Sunak talks to children in a dental surgery in Cornwall

More than 12 million people were unable to access NHS dental care last year – more than 1 in 4 adults in England, according to the BDA. At the same time 90% of dental practices are no longer accepting new NHS adult patients.

The crisis has been brewing for years, with reports of people having to pull their own teeth out with pliers because they can’t access NHS dentists.

However, the shortage returned to the spotlight earlier this week when hundreds of people queued outside a dental practice in Bristol after it opened its books for NHS patients.

Experts said the queues would be replicated around the country if more practices also started taking on new NHS patients again.

They want to see “radical reform” of the dental contract, which they say is driving an exodus as it doesn’t do enough to make NHS dental work attractive.

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Mr Sunak said the funding announced this week will “make a significant difference, and soon”.

However, he did not say whether he could guarantee everyone access to an NHS dentist.

Mr Crouch, in response to Mr Sunak’s visit, said: “The PM won’t have to queue around the block to get an appointment. He won’t face travelling hundreds of miles for care. He’ll never find himself reaching for a set of pliers.

“The paucity of the government’s plan means many patients will keep facing these horrific choices.”

Downing Street later suggested the decision to visit a dentist that was not accepting patients was “deliberate” in order to hear from a surgery that has “experienced barriers” to providing appointments for patients.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “As I understand this was a deliberate choice, wanting to speak to a surgery to hear from them about the challenges that they’re facing so they can take on more NHS patients. Obviously we want to make sure that everyone who wants an NHS appointment is able to get one.”

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