Dental services ‘facing collapse’ in Wales

Dental services are at risk of catastrophic collapse with people resorting to “DIY dentistry” and using pliers to pull out their own teeth, the Senate heard.

Peter Fox has warned that NHS dental services are declining rapidly since the Welsh Government introduced the new contract in 2022.

“These contracts don't work for dentists and they don't work for patients,” he told the Senedd, as he highlighted the number of NHS dental jobs is down 60% compared to 2021.

Tory MPs echoed concerns raised by the British Dental Association, saying dental services could face a catastrophic collapse as a result of contract reforms.

Mr Fox, representing Monmouth, warned patients would have to make a choice between waiting years or paying hundreds of pounds for private care.

He said: “The lack of access leads to drastic action – from harrowing stories of people using pliers to pull out their own teeth, to harrowing stories of people being forced to travel 200 miles round trip to get an appointment with the dentist. Clearly this is not the case in the 21st century. is completely unacceptable.

Mr Fox, who moderated a debate on primary care on April 24, warned that GPs were also struggling due to a lack of contract funding, which had not increased in line with rising costs and wages.

He told MS that some GPs were having to pay staff and utility bills out of their own pockets, and clinics were being forced to cancel an increasing number of services.

The Conservatives said some voters were facing 50-mile round trips and 50-week hospital waits for services that were previously delivered regularly and promptly in GP surgeries.

Mr Fox, who led Monmouthshire County Council for more than a decade before being elected to the Senate in 2021, urged the Welsh Government to urgently review GP and dental contracts.

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Eluned Morgan told the chamber that the majority of contacts with the NHS are in primary care – with up to 500,000 contacts per month in a population of 3 million.

Health Secretary Wales acknowledged the huge pressure on clinics and said last year's contract provided a 5% pay rise not only for GPs but also clinic staff.

She said: “We want to reform dental contracts on a precautionary basis to respond to risk and demand and we have already made up to 300,000 appointments available for new dental patients.”

Baroness Morgan, whose husband is a GP, stressed the importance of other professionals in the community, such as pharmacists and opticians, to the prevention agenda.

She said most pharmacies in Wales offered free services for 27 common conditions, helping to relieve pressure on GPs and other parts of the healthcare system.

At First Minister's Questions on April 23, Sian Gwenllian said many of her constituents were unable to access public dental services – “a completely unacceptable situation”.

Plaid Cymru MS in Arfon has sparked concerns that a new dental college in Bangor will remain closed to NHS patients despite promising to help address a lack of public services.

The new Conservative shadow health secretary, Sam Rowlands, said too many people in North Wales were unable to access NHS dental services.

He raised comments made by Russell Gidney, chairman of the Welsh General Dental Practice Committee, warning of the rise of “DIY dentistry” due to a lack of proper access.

Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government's commitment to reforming dental contracts to unlock capacity and access to NHS services was one of the Health Secretary's top priorities.

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