Health

'Gin, pliers and brute force:' Dentists accuse Rishi Sunak of forcing Brits to pull their own teeth

Britain’s peak dentistry group have accused Rishi Sunak of leaving patients reliant on 'gin and pliers' as dental waiting lists soar

Increasing numbers of Brits are relying on DIY dentistry. Credit: Diana Polekhina / unsplash

Britain’s top dentists have accused Rishi Sunak of leaving patients reliant on “gin and pliers” – with a damning new report showing that just 3% of dentists think the government can fix the NHS dental crisis.

If you’ve tried DIY dentistry, you’re not alone. According to a 2023 survey, around one in ten adults have attempted to fix their own teeth.

Snaking queues have become common sites at public dental clinics, as NHS waiting lists stretch into the millions. It’s taking a toll: in the past five years, 100,000 children have been admitted to hospital with rotting teeth.

As the crisis mounts, the government has unveiled its £200m plan to boost NHS dentistry in England. But dentists aren’t impressed.

According to a survey released today, just 3% believe the plan will result in them seeing more NHS patients. Some 43% believe the proposals will lead to them seeing fewer patients, while 54% said the number of NHS patients they see will remain the same.

Overall, just 1% of respondents believe the plan is capable of meeting the government’s stated objective to provide NHS dental care to ‘all who need it’. A mere 3% say it will keep them providing NHS care long term.

“Check-ups are hard to come by, but it will prove much harder for ministers to find a dentist who backs their outlandish claims,” said Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association (BDA)’s general dental practice committee.

“This profession has seen through the spin. Empty soundbites won’t stop queues outside practices, and dodgy statistics won’t call time on ‘DIY’ dentistry.”

The organisation has warned that the plan is little better than “gin, pliers and a bit of brute force.”

Three quarters (75%) of dentists do not believe the plan will improve NHS access for new patients. Meanwhile, 93% said the proposals are not sufficiently ambitious to meet the scale of the challenge facing NHS dentistry.

What does the new dental plan contain?

Demand has surged since COVID-19 caused backlog across the country.

Only 41% of practices say they are operating at pre-COVID levels of capacity. 62% cite higher needs patients requiring more clinical time as a factor constraining their practice, reflecting the huge backlogs generated by ongoing access problems.

The government’s dental plan hopes to fix the dental crisis by offering dentists in underserved communities £20,000 bonuses, and promising practioners “increased remuneration” for working in NHS practises. Mobile dental units and increased water fluoridation are other included policies.

Health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins said that the plan would make access to dentistry “Faster, simpler and fairer for patients.”

“This scheme is good for patients and good for dentists. It will see millions more appointments made available for those who need them, while also rewarding those dentists who are taking on new NHS patients,” she said.

However, the BDA claims that the £200m announcement does not include new investment – rather, it’s covered by an existing £450m underspend taken from practices struggling to hit their punitive NHS targets.

“Bringing dentistry back into the 21st century requires real commitment, which is frankly in short supply,” said Charlwood.

He is set to give evidence to the House of Commons health and social care committee today (19 March).

Matthew McGregor, CEO of campaign group 38 Degrees, whose petition with the BDA has secured more than 200,000 signatures, described the state of care as “horrifying.”

“When people are taking pliers to their gums or pulling teeth out with string and a slammed door, it’s obvious that NHS dentistry is broken – and the government’s toothless recovery plan isn’t enough to save it,” he said.

“Dentists know it, and patients know it. And, in an election year, politicians from all parties better show that they know it too. Every single one of us needs access to safe dental care that we can afford, so any party that doesn’t convince voters it can fix this crisis will feel the impact at the polls.”

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