Every week when I am out talking to people across Ipswich, the desperate state of our public services is brought up time and time again. After more than a decade of the Conservatives in power, nothing feels like it works. Hospital waiting lists are at a record high, school buildings are crumbling, and our courts have thousands of cases outstanding.
Dentistry is not immune either. Like many other parts of Britain, Suffolk is a ‘dental desert’, with people unable to secure an NHS dentist, and we are seeing the devastating consequences, both locally and nationally.
New analysis of patient survey data suggests that, across the country, 4.75 million people were denied an appointment with an NHS dentist over the past two years. Figures also show millions of people were either told no appointments were available or that the practice they contacted was not taking on new patients.
The inability for patients to access dental healthcare has forced many into A&E departments – locally, nearly 1,500 people were forced to attend A&E at the hospital trusts that cover Suffolk.
For children over five years old, tooth decay is the most common reason to be admitted to hospital. One in six children living in the most deprived areas of England suffer from tooth decay, and are three times more likely to have rotting teeth than kids in the least deprived areas.
With 1 in 10 people attempting their own dental work, horror stories of DIY dentistry are emerging too. Healthwatch England has reported that patients have pulled their own teeth out with pliers, and last year a mum-of-two from Bury St Edmunds was forced to remove 13 of her own teeth after she was unable to find an NHS dentist.
This is Britain, in the 21st century, yet people are pulling out their own teeth because of the erosion of NHS dentistry over the last 13 years.
I have spoken a number of times to Wes Streeting, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, about the terrible situation we are facing in Suffolk.
Wes has not only listened, but he has delivered a rescue plan for NHS dentistry that will be transformative for our county and our country.
To save dentistry from the immediate crisis, a Labour government will provide 700,000 more appointments a year to those in the most urgent need, as well as providing incentives for new dentists to work in areas with the most severe shortages, like Suffolk.
With such a significant number of five year olds having one or more obvious untreated decayed teeth in the East of England, we will also protect children’s teeth by delivering a toothbrushing scheme in nurseries and schools, targeted at the areas with highest childhood tooth decay.
But Labour’s mission-led government will always do more than simply fixing the basics – we need to deliver real change and restore the foundations of NHS dentistry for a sustainable, accessible and impactful service that will last. That is why we will reform the dental contract to rebuild and future-proof NHS dentistry.
The plans will cost £111 million a year in total and be funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status, a loophole which allows people who live and work in Britain to pay their taxes overseas. In short, Labour will back dentists over non-doms.
No more Conservative sticking plasters. No more DIY dentistry. No more living in pain because you can’t afford to see a dentist.
Under a Labour government, we will end Suffolk’s ‘dental desert’, give people their dignity back, and ensure that NHS dentistry is there for all who need it, when they need it.