Rishi Sunak has vowed to end the crisis in NHS dentistry which is forcing some people to pull out their own teeth, stepping up his battle with Liz Truss for No 10.
A staggering 9 out 10 dental practices are thought to be rejecting new patients – leading to ‘DIY dentistry’ a health leader warned – a grim situation blamed on a chronic lack of funding.
Mr Sunak is unveiling a five-point plan to rescue the service, without acknowledging any responsibility the Conservatives might bear for what he calls “unprecedented pressure” on dentistry.
It would introduce ringfenced funding, primary school check-ups, better contracts to stop dentists from going private, mobile dentists in rural areas and a shake-up of training.
The plan marks a shift away from a Tory leadership campaign focused on tax cuts and hardline policies towards migrants, in which hard-pressed public services have barely featured.
“NHS dentistry is under unprecedented pressure with people unable to get the treatment they need, leaving them in pain or forced to fork out thousands for private care,” Mr Sunak said.
“My five-point plan will be activated on day one to free up dentistry professionals to do their jobs, encourage NHS trained dentists to stay in the NHS, and focus on prevention as that is always better than the cure.”
This week, the head of Healthwatch England highlighted the “dire” situation and warned that “NHS dentistry will die” unless the government changes course.
“We’re seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic,” Louise Ansari said.
“The question now is will ministers step up before it’s too late? Nothing we’ve heard from government to date gives us any confidence this service has a future.”
The Department of Health and Social Care argued better NHS dental care “is a government priority and the new reforms to the dental contract announced last month are an important step”.
But Mr Sunak’s campaign warned dentists are “not incentivised to stay in the NHS”, which was making it increasingly difficult for patients to find the care they need “even in emergencies”.
Since the start of the Covid pandemic, 3,000 dentists have given up NHS dentistry work entirely, the industry says.
The former chancellor is still struggling to gain a foothold in the contest, according to multiple polls, ahead of further party hustings in Manchester on Friday evening.
His campaign hit another bump when he said his favourite McDonald’s meal was a breakfast wrap – an item the fast food chain removed from its menu way back in March 2020.
In Manchester, Ms Truss will pledge to retain a ‘Minister for the North, with responsibility for levelling up’ and create two new vocational institutions in the North which she is dubbing ‘Voxbridge’.