Health Secretary Victoria Atkins stumped on exact figure for new dentists as ministers plan £20,000 ‘golden hello’

7 February 2024, 08:38 | Updated: 7 February 2024, 09:16

Dentists who set up practice in areas of England with poor access to NHS care will be offered a £20,000 bonus
Dentists who set up practice in areas of England with poor access to NHS care will be offered a £20,000 bonus. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Asher McShane

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins struggled on LBC this morning to answer how many new dentists are coming through the system each year - as millions across the country have difficulty accessing care.

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Dentists who set up practice in areas of England with poor access to NHS care will be offered a £20,000 bonus under government plans.

But the plans have been criticised by Labour and dental leaders as ‘rearranging the deckchairs’.

The Health Secretary was asked by Nick Ferrari on LBC this morning: “How many are we turning out each year? Secretary of State you don’t know do you?”

Ms Atkins struggled to give a figure but said: “We have to look at the immediate term... trying to get dental vans into the most under served areas.”

Chris Bryant, Shadow Minister for Creative Industries and Digital, told LBC News: "Well, it's a temporary filling, isn't it? And basically, and don't get me wrong, some of it is good. Indeed it's what we've been arguing for... you need to make sure you deal with the areas where there are hardly any dentists at all - and in particular NHS dentists.

"You've got to persuade more dentists to take on new NHS patients. All of that was part of our plan. But I would just point out that part of this is about money. The government has set aside £100 million.

"That's barely 1/4 the under spend in the dentistry budget in England this year, and that's because they've manifestly failed to manage the dentistry in the UK for the last 14 years, they said back in 2010 that they were going to reform, renegotiate the the dentists contract that is now patently long, long, long.

"The biggest cause for 6 to 10 year olds to be admitted to hospital nowadays is tooth decay - and eight out of 10 dentist practices last year said they had treated people for self dentistry."

Nick challenges Health Sec on the state if NHS dentistry pre and post pandemic

Nick told her that fewer than 1,000 dental school places are available each year.

“We’re training 40% more dentists by 2030/31 it’s a really important part of the pipeline, but I have to look at the here and now. This is why [we are] giving dentists a bonus for doing more work.”

Dentists will be offered a £20,000 'golden hello' payment if they stay in the NHS for three years under plans to create more appointments.

Nick Ferrari interviews Health Secretary Victoria Atkins

The leaked plans, seen by LBC yesterday, show that ministers will launch a full plan today to generate one million more dentist appointments.

Millions are already in so called 'dental deserts' where there are no slots available for NHS patients.

Another £200 million will be dished out to encourage more to stay in the profession.

It comes after people in Bristol were seen queuing down the road after a new dental practice opened up in their area.

Read more: Police called after hundreds of people queue for six hours to try and register with an NHS dentist

Read more: Desperate patients rip out teeth with bare hands and resort to glueing replacements in NHS dentist crisis

Iain Dale caller had to wait 2.5 years to see a dentist

According to the plan, new dental vans will also be driven around the country in coastal and rural areas to see patients who can't find a dentist.

The plan says: "Dentists will be offered a ‘bonus’ to take on more NHS patients, which will create more than 1.5 million new treatments.

"We’ll also be offering ‘golden hello’ cash incentives for dentists to come and work in areas that are under-served.

"This will allow around 1 million new patients access to NHS dental treatment, who may previously have been unable to access the dental care they need."

Caller has visited up to three hundred dentists in search of help

Responding to the leaked plan, Labour accused the Tories of stealing their ideas.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: "After 14 years of Conservative neglect, patients are desperately queuing around the block to see a dentist, literally pulling their own teeth out, and tooth decay is the number one reason for 6–10-year-olds being admitted to hospital.

"The Conservatives are only promising to do something about it now there’s an election coming. By adopting Labour’s proposals for recruitment and supervised toothbrushing, they are finally admitting that they are out of ideas of their own.

"It will be left to the next Labour government to rescue NHS dentistry and get patients seen on time once again."