Dentistry is a vital part of our NHS. Like other sectors, dental practices have worked incredibly hard to keep the industry going in unprecedented times. Dental staff ensured that vital care was made available through the initial peak – both remotely and in frontline urgent dental centres – and many volunteered to be deployed on frontline COVID-19 services.
I pay tribute to dentists in our constituency and across the country for their selfless dedication. They do so much to make our health service one to be proud of and deserve our respect, admiration and full support.
I welcomed the Government’s decision to step in and offer dentists their full contract payments between June and December 2020. However, as you will know, a breakdown in negotiations between NHS dentists and the General Dental Practice Committee has resulted in targets being imposed from 1 January 2021. Under these arrangements, practices are required to hit 45% of their pre-pandemic activity levels in the first quarter of this year or face penalties.
Those targets were put in place prior to the third wave of the pandemic. The British Dental Association has subsequently raised concerns that lockdown measures mean patient non-attendance will become commonplace, as will dentists and their teams being unable to work due to infection or self-isolation.
The House of Commons considered the imposition of these new contractual arrangements in a debate on 14 January 2021. Responding in that debate, the Public Health Minister refused to reconsider the activity targets. I understand the disappointment that will be felt by NHS dentists in our constituency and across the country.
I believe the Government must intervene to resolve contracting issues and alleviate concerns shared widely amongst the dental profession. Ministers should look again at the conditions and ensure that dentists have a fair chance of meeting targets and are not unfairly penalised if they do not, through no fault of their own.