An NHS dentistry recovery plan is coming “very soon”, health minister Dame Andrea Leadsom has confirmed.
Ministers were pressed to reveal when they would come forward with promised plans to help the sector recover from the pandemic in the Commons on Tuesday.
Dame Andrea said she recognised that the Government needed to do more, but asked MPs to wait “a little bit longer” for the plan which is “almost ready”.
The minister apologised after hearing about a person who was unable to access NHS dentistry after the pandemic and said they had her “absolute sympathy”.
Labour’s shadow health minister Preet Kaur Gill described a case of someone called Emma who was unable to access NHS dentistry in their own town and, after having an emergency appointment in another city, had to go to hospital to have wisdom teeth removed.
Dame Andrea said: “Emma has my absolute sympathy and apology for the fact that since the Covid pandemic we have not seen the recovery of dentistry that we would have liked to have seen.”
She added: “In July 2022 we already created significant reforms to encourage dentists to take on more NHS patients. We recognise that we need to do more.
“The long-term workforce plan will increase training places, the overseas registration will improve capacity, as will the changes to the dental therapist programmes.
“So all of these things will improve things. But in the meantime we will be bringing forward our recovery plan very soon which will immediately expand the incentives to NHS dentists.”
Earlier in the health and social care questions, Labour MP Rachael Maskell said: “We were promised before the summer, we were promised after the summer, we were promised before Christmas, we were promised soon, and now we have been promised shortly. The reality is is that our benches have got a plan and the Government have not got a plan.”
The York Central MP said her constituents have “nowhere to go” to register with an NHS dentist, with practices handing back their contracts, adding: “What is the minister going to do to ensure my constituents can access NHS dentistry?”
Dame Andrea replied: “I absolutely understand the challenge for some people. The situation has improved over the last year.
“Since the Covid pandemic, where almost every dentist had to stop working altogether, we have not seen the recovery we want to see and we are putting in plans, not a paper ambition like the members opposite have put forward, but some really significant reforms that will enable many more people to be seen by NHS dentists.”
Conservative MP Sheryll Murray said her constituency of South East Cornwall is seeing a “growing number of dentists withdraw from the NHS provision”. She added: “What steps is the department taking to ensure vital dental care is provided for everyone, particular in rural communities?”
Dame Andrea said: “We do have a plan, which is almost ready, and I do urge her to wait just a little bit longer.”
Elsewhere in the debate, Sir Sajid Javid called on the Government to respond to his report on the equity of medical devices “as a matter of urgency”.
The former health secretary and MP for Bromsgrove said: “The colour of someone’s skin should not impact the reliability of medical devices, but we know that’s what happened during the pandemic for many black and Asian patients.
“That’s why I commissioned as health secretary an independent review of the equity of medical devices by Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead. That report was published and handed to the department in June of last year, but the department has not yet published it or responded to it.
He added: “Can I ask her to publish it with a full Government response as a matter of urgency?”
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins replied: “I’m giving this my closest attention and I very much hope to be in a position to answer his response in due course.”