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More needs to be done for dentistry in North West Norfolk, says MP James Wild

In his weekly column, MP James Wild discusses dental services in North West Norfolk...

North West Norfolk has one of the lowest numbers of dentists per population so making it easier to see a NHS dentists is an issue I have campaigned on repeatedly. The new Smile practice in Lynn that I pushed the NHS, which is responsible for commissioning services, to put out a contract to provide coverage has provided thousands of appointments. But more needs to be done so I welcome the new measures targeted particularly at areas such as Norfolk where getting to see a dentist is too difficult.

The restrictions imposed due to Covid mean many people have not seen a dentist for some time. So NHS dentists will be given a new patient bonus of up to £50 to treat around a million new patients who have not seen an NHS dentist in two years or more. This approach has been trialled successfully in the North West.

Dentist: Picture:iStock
Dentist: Picture:iStock

In areas that are underserved by NHS dentistry and with the highest demand, dentists will be offered one-off payments of up to £20,000 for working in those places for up to three years. The minimum value of activity will also increase from £23 to £28 and high-performing practices will also be able to deliver extra work on top of contracted activity.

To help improve access in the short term, new dental vans are being launched to come directly to areas and help reach more isolated communities, including in rural and coastal places including Norfolk. They will offer check-ups and straightforward treatment including fillings. This model has worked successfully in Cornwall and Devon.

Better prevention care is also being rolled out for children to help reduce tooth decay. The ‘Smile for Life’ programme will offer parents-to-be further advice with toddlers in nurseries having tooth brushing as part of their daily routine. This builds on the approach taken by Norfolk and Waveney NHS which offered up to £20,000 for dentists to visit schools and teach children about how to keep teeth healthy.

MP James Wild
MP James Wild

Longer term solutions include training more dentists. The government is committed to expanding trainee dental places by 40 per cent as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. In the House of Commons I called on the Health Secretary to support plans for undergraduate training places at the UEA. This would help address a lack of training locally and complement planned provision of dental apprenticeships at the College of West Anglia.

The Health Secretary has also listened to calls from me and others to make it easier for overseas dentists to work in the NHS – a particular issue that has affected a local practice.

These reforms build on steps taken by the Norfolk & Waveney NHS including its efforts to improve access to emergency appointments through calling 111. They are carrying out a survey to get views on priority areas – have your say www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/dental-priorities-survey

My mailbag has many accounts of how difficult it is to see an NHS dentist. By focusing on rural areas such as ours, delivering this plan should help make is simpler and fairer for people to be able to see a NHS dentist.

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