350,000 extra NHS dental appointments will be created in the next few months in England as the government spends £50 million to clear the enormous backlog created by COVID disruption.
But the British Dental Association is warning that many practices simply don’t have the capacity to increase their workload despite the extra investment.
Under the scheme – described by NHS England as a “treatment blitz” – dentists will be paid more than a third extra to work outside their normal hours and treat people in the early morning, evening, and at weekends.
Children, people with learning difficulties, autism or severe mental health problems will be prioritised.
It’s hoped the fund will help to close the gap left after an estimated 38 million appointments were missed since the start of the pandemic.
Sara Hurley, the chief dental officer for England, said: “More than 600 urgent dental health hubs were rapidly ramped up during the pandemic to deliver urgent care for patients and the NHS is now getting key services like dentistry back to pre-pandemic levels – injecting an extra £50 million into routine services will help provide check-ups and treatment for hundreds and thousands of people.”
However, Shawn Charlwood, the chair of the BDA general dental practice committee criticised the “time limited offer”.
He said: “After a decade of cuts a cash-starved service risks being offered money that can’t be spent.
“Hard-pressed practices are working against the clock and many will struggle to find capacity ahead of April for this investment to make a difference.
“Until today not a penny of the government’s multi-billion-pound catch-up programme had reached dentistry. This is progress but must be just the start if we are to rebuild a service millions depend on.”
Reports to Healthwatch England have indicated serious issues with dentistry during the pandemic.
This includes people being asked to wait as long as three years for an appointment, and others advised to carry out “DIY dentistry”.