North Devon dental services ‘something that needs fixing’
Since before my election it has been clear that the availability of dental services in North Devon is an issue that needs to be addressed.
This is why I have often spoken of the difficulties faced by voters in North Devon when trying to register themselves and their children for examinations and treatment, both with ministers and in debates in Westminster . I am pleased that this week the Department of Health and Social Care has released an update on access to dentistry in England.
In the final week before the recess break, I asked the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay, how this would help ‘dental wastelands’ like North Devon. The ministry has made it clear that it expects dental practices to return to pre-pandemic capacity levels. Capacity levels have been reduced to keep dentists and patients safe, but the focus now needs to be on dealing with long waiting lists.
It’s great to see that the department has also listened to the concerns of dentists. I have had many discussions about the limitations faced by dentists in North Devon, fortunately the announced contract changes should resolve many of these.
Complex and restorative treatments are going to be valued differently, with dentists receiving better compensation for undertaking these difficult procedures. This will encourage dentists to undertake this time-consuming work.
Dental is also more than dentists, each surgery is staffed by a talented team of dental nurses, hygienists and therapists. Previously, these staff members were limited in the work they could do for NHS patients. Now, as in private care, practices will have greater flexibility in the use of these key members of staff, so they can provide more NHS care within their skills and experience.
The NHS will also have more control over dental resource allocation and available funding. They will be able to give the best performing practices the possibility of taking on more patients, while the subcontracted practices will see their allocation reduced. These reforms will minimize wastage of funding and ensure patient access is maximized.
These developments will improve access to dental services, but I will continue to push for more creative solutions in areas as devoid of services as North Devon. I argued that we need to encourage more foreign dentists to come to areas like ours. As I said during the Queen’s Speech debate, ‘our landscapes are beautiful, the waves are fantastic and I know our communities would welcome them with open arms’.
Measures to train more dental professionals are welcome, but they are too slow, and although dentists from the European Economic Area can practice here, there are simply not enough of them. I requested that there be an exploration of the recognition of international registrations outside the EU. For example, India has an incredible number of dentists looking for work, I would love to welcome them here.
This week also saw the announcement of the Women’s Health Strategy. I was delighted to discuss this during a panel discussion with Sajid Javid in his former role as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
The gaps in women’s health go beyond reproductive care, which is largely understudied, but spans a woman’s lifetime. From male bodies treated as the medical norm during the development of drugs and treatments, to women’s pain underestimated, women are sadly spending more of their lives in poor health.
The investment and training announced by the government will go a long way towards addressing the disadvantage faced by 51% of the population.
Written by Selaine Saxby, MP for North Devon