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Children, people with learning disabilities, autism or severe mental health issues will be prioritised in the drive to return services to pre-pandemic levels.
Dentists in the scheme will be paid more than a third extra on top of their normal fees for working outside their usual hours, including offering appointments early in the morning and at weekends.
Sara Hurley, England’s chief dental officer, said: “Dental services are a vital part of the NHS…and that’s why we have taken this unprecedented action.
“The NHS is now getting key services like dentistry back to pre-pandemic levels – injecting an extra £50million into routine services will help provide checkups and treatment for hundreds and thousands of people.”
The British Dental Association (BDA) estimates more than 38 million NHS appointments were lost to Covid and the lockdowns.
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As the virus spread in March 2020, practices were forced to close and defer non-urgent care. They reopened in June that year but with strict infection control measures in place. Now, as the recovery continues, NHS teams will use the cash to up capacity, targeting patients most at risk of poor oral health.
The NHS in England already spends £2.3billion on dentistry every year.
Primary care minister Maria Caulfield said: “We are now working with the dental sector to recover and reform services and this £50million boost will help with that recovery.”
Last week the BDA warned NHS dentistry was “hanging by a thread”. It said some practices were struggling to meet a target to return to 85 per cent of prepandemic activity from January.
It welcomed the announcement but said more long-term support was needed to tackle the unprecedented backlog.
Shawn Charlwood, chair of the BDA’s general dental practice committee, warned “hardpressed” practices were already “working against the clock” and many would struggle to find extra capacity.
He added: “After a decade of cuts, a cash-starved service risks being offered money that can’t be spent. This is progress, but must be just the start.”
Our services are on the road to recovery, says SARA HURLEY
The pandemic turned millions of lives upside down.
It inevitably hit routine dental services hard as we sought to protect our staff and patients.
Yet, hardworking teams across the country worked at speed to set up more than 600 urgent dental hubs so people who needed our care most could continue to be treated safely.
Thanks to the success of the jab rollout, we are now busy recovering services and tackling the backlog.
Strict infection prevention control measures have eased and now dental practices can operate at 85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
I am delighted that we can immediately inject £50million into local dental services to see and treat even more people. Hundreds of thousands more appointments will be available over the next few months with priority going to some of the most vulnerable in society.
It is vital that people come forward for care when needed which is why the NHS supported dentistry throughout the pandemic.
Those needing care should approach their local practice or contact NHS 111 for advice.
- Sara Hurley is Chief Dental Officer for England
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