The government is planning to offer dentists cash incentives to take on new NHS patients and work in areas that are under-served.
Details of the NHS “dental recovery plan”, which also include sending teams into schools to treat children’s teeth, were due to be announced on Wednesday.
However, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) appears to have inadvertently sent an email detailing the new measures to some opposition MPs. This was then passed on to Sky News.
The email, marked with Wednesday’s date, says dentists will be offered a “bonus” to take on more NHS patients, creating more than 1.5 million new treatments.
There will also be a “golden hello” cash incentive for dentists to work in areas that are under-served, allowing around one million new patients to access treatment.
This will kick in from later this year and see up to 240 dentists offered £20,000 to stay and deliver NHS care for at least three years in areas where recruitment and retention of dentists is difficult, the email says.
The plan, amounting to a £200m investment in NHS dentistry, also includes a “Smile for Life” initiative which aims to prevent tooth decay in nursery and reception-aged children by encouraging healthy tooth-brushing habits.
In addition, mobile dental teams will go into schools in under-served areas to provide advice and deliver fluoride varnish treatments to more than 165,000 kids.
A new dental van service will also be available for targeted rural and coastal communities in under-served areas, with the first vans up and running later this year.
It is unclear if the contents of the email will exactly match Wednesday’s announcement. Sky News has contacted the DHSC for comment.
On Monday, the British Dental Association (BDA) warned that police had to break up queues outside a dental practice in Bristol as they hit out at “sticking plaster policies”.
The BDA wants the government to reform “discredited dental contracts” which they say are fuelling an exodus and mean NHS treatments are being delivered at a financial loss.
They said claims that the measures being announced would generate “millions” of new appointments appeared to lack credibility.
“There is nothing in the plan to draw dentists back into NHS dentistry to enhance workforce capacity,” a spokesperson said – adding that most of the investment appeared to be drawn “from recycling existing budgets”.
Labour claimed the government was “only promising to do something about it now there’s an election coming”.
Pointing to his party’s own plan for supervised toothbrushing for children and thousands of extra appointments, 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-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.”
Lib Dem health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: “This plan comes too little too late for those left waiting in pain for dental care or the children admitted to hospital for tooth decay.
“With over 12 million waiting for help, this pledge to help just 1 million is a drop in the ocean and shows the Government isn’t serious.”