Long-awaited NHS reforms promise improved access to dental care

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Long-awaited NHS reforms promise improved access to dental care

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Newly announced reforms to UK public dentistry are aimed at giving more patients access to care and dentists greater support. (Image: Shutterstock/Yau Ming Low)

LONDON, UK: Just when it seemed that failures across the UK National Health Service (NHS) were worse than ever, NHS England announced unprecedented changes to its policies and programmes, with input from the British Dental Association, among others. On 19 July, NHS England released six specific aims to guide the reforms, including goals to reduce care that is “of low clinical value” and to address inequalities in patient access to NHS care.

One of the pivotal changes is the updated recommendation that clinics evaluate and possibly reduce how often they offer regular dental check-ups based on patient needs. The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence now recommends that low-risk adult patients only need a check-up once every 24 months instead of every six months. Such a change would reduce unnecessary spending and allow dentists to meet the needs of the growing pool of new patients struggling to find a practice.

“NHS dental staff are working hard to recover services, but the key to delivering this will be reform—these changes announced today will help teams carry out even more treatments and help address the inevitable backlogs that have built up during the pandemic,” said England’s chief dental officer, Dr Sara Hurley.

Another major reform is the utilising of dental therapists to their full capabilities to perform fillings, preventive care, and other procedures, freeing up dentists for more complex cases.

Steve Barclay, secretary of state for health and social care, commented on the sweeping reforms, saying: “Improving patient access to NHS dental care is a priority and these changes are an important step, while also rewarding dentists more fairly for providing more complex care, allowing the best performing practices to see more patients and making better use of the range of professionals working in the sector such as nurses, hygienists, and dental therapists.”

The timing of these reforms is crucial because more patients than ever have been forced to seek private dental treatment in the UK and many have resorted to dental tourism for their care. Additionally, it has been more than 16 years since the public dental care programme has undergone any significant changes.

 

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