The NHS is a great British institution. All of us will rely on it at some point in our lives. Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund looked at health services around the world and considered that what we have in the UK is the best in the world. The many hard-working nurses and doctors who contribute to this success have a lot of be proud of. Locally we have great work done at St Michael's Hospital, which is a national leader in breast surgery, and Camborne and Redruth Hospital which has a number of specialisms including stroke and prosthetics.
The NHS also provides access to local dental practices across the country. We all know the importance of looking after our teeth and ensuring good dental hygiene with regular check-ups. It can be an important way of identifying other conditions early such as mouth cancers. Unfortunately for many across Cornwall, gaining access to an NHS dentist is not as easy as it should be. I have had a growing number of constituents reporting problems getting access to a local dentist and part of the problem is the fact that we are on a peninsula and staff retention is harder.
Ironically, we have a dental school in Truro and train many dentists every year but getting them stay in Cornwall is proving more difficult. Waiting lists for dental treatment are not uncommon in Cornwall, with 52% of adults in Devon and Cornwall recorded as not seeing an NHS dentist in the past two years. This means that when patients do visit their dentists, it is often for more complex treatments that take longer to solve.
NHS England, who are largely responsible for administering dental services across the country are working hard to commission new services and reduce waiting lists, but the problem is exacerbated in the way that dentists are paid. Previously, dentists used to gain money based on a set payment tariff for “units of work” that they complete. Under the previous Labour government, these tariffs were simplified about twelve years ago to one basic tariff for most work. Although there were good intentions behind that change to simplify things, it does mean that dentists now do not receive a higher payment that would cover complex cases and parts of the country are more prone to having patients presenting with complex problems than others.
If we want to reduce the numbers of patients on waiting lists, then we must pursue a range of options that will start to improve local services. From working with local providers to ensure that existing contacts are delivering to their maximum potential to commissioning additional NHS work from practices that have capacity available across Cornwall. In recent weeks I have also met with the Minister for Public Health and Primary Care to discuss the issue in greater detail and have also spoken to the Director of Commissioning Operations at NHS England in the South West.
Despite the difficulties that many are experiencing, there are arrangements in place to ensure that those without a dentist requiring treatment, can access an urgent dental appointment as a priority. Patients who are waiting for a place at an NHS dentist can access emergency treatment by contacting Westcountry Dental in Truro on 03334050290.