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MP calls for better access to NHS dental services in Lincolnshire

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Column by Dr Caroline Johnson, MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham

Last week I held an adjournment debate on NHS dentistry in Lincolnshire. Difficulties in accessing NHS dental services are common in my constituency of Sleaford and North Hykeham and across our rural county.

During my speech I raised constituent’s experiences of lengthy waiting times, problems accessing dental healthcare for service families, and how the backlog caused by the pandemic has put further strain on already stretched services.

Caroline Johnson (23271513)
Caroline Johnson (23271513)

Figures show that just 41 per cent of adults in Lincolnshire have accessed a dentist in the two years to June 2021, and just 31 per cent of children in the last year.

Access to specialist treatment is even more limited, and Lincolnshire has just one orthodontic consultant and no specialists in paediatrics or restorative dentistry.

This means significant travel out of county for patients who need more specialised help, and families struggling to access NHS orthodontic care for their children are faced with either paying huge sums for private treatment or going without.

Increasing the number of available appointments requires increasing the number of NHS dentists locally.

It is well known that people often stay where they train, and there is currently no university dental school in the East Midlands or indeed East Anglia.

Following the successful establishment of the Lincoln Medical School in 2018, the addition of an adjunct dental school would be a welcome addition to Lincolnshire and the wider area.

I am glad the Minister agreed to look into this suggestion which would boost training opportunities and improve recruitment of dentists locally, and that the Government is looking at what they can do to further support provision in rural areas.

The Minister has also agreed to meet with me to discuss the further impacts on military personnel in particular.

Increasing the number of dental students must also be coupled with making NHS dentistry more attractive to work in.

Despite the number of dentists graduating each year nationally more than keeping up with population growth, the number of NHS dentists available has decreased as dentists choose to work privately instead.

This has been seen in Lincolnshire where there has been a net drop of 30 dentists providing NHS services in the year to April 2021.

This situation has in large part arisen due to the flawed target-based NHS dental contract in place which disincentives additional work.

Most notably it pays a set amount for particular types of treatment, regardless of the number of teeth that need treating. This means a dentist is paid the same amount for providing one filling in a patient or 10 - effectively punishing dentists for taking on new patients with high needs.

I am pleased the Minister recognised the flaws in the current system and agreed that the NHS dental contract needs to be renewed.

My constituents in Lincolnshire deserve to be able to see an NHS dentist, and dentists working in Lincolnshire deserve a contract that correctly rewards them for the work they do.

I will continue to press on this matter to ensure constituents and service families are able to access the treatment they need.

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