Plymouth’s dental provision is in a horrible state. It has been getting steadily worse for some time., but in the last twelve months seems to have declined dramatically. Unlike the real focus we had on the hospital this time last year, that changed the data significantly and improved people’s experiences of Derriford Hospital, I do not seem to be having the success that I was hoping for on dentistry yet, and I am disappointed.
I’m fed up with how hard it is for all of us to visit a dentist, but particularly some of our city’s poorest children, for whom the state of their teeth when I visit their schools, is unacceptable. Whilst politicians will wrangle over who spotted this problem first and whose fault it is, the real credit should go to Whitleigh Primary School who first got me in this time last year to show me exactly how bad the system had become – covered extensively in the Herald. Since then I have been made aware of more personal stories in Plymouth Moor View which are deeply disturbing. As everyone knows too, my family was booted off our own NHS Dentist list early this year too.
What are we doing? On a national level, the contract for local NHS Dentistry provision has moved from NHS England to the more local Devon ICB (Integrated Care Board). However, progress has remained frustratingly slow, and this has not yielded the improvements in Service I had hoped.
The city’s emergency response is being coordinated by the Dental Task Force – the cross-party task force brings together councillors, NHS Devon and the two largest providers of NHS dental care in the city – Livewell Southwest and the Peninsula Dental School. I’ve attended these meetings, and some progress is being made, but I am yet to see a significant up-turn in the situation.
I have made it clear to the Dental Task Force that I want to see every under-16 in Plymouth to have access to an NHS dentist. This is the gauge by which I will measure the task force’s success. This is not an unreasonable ask; Plymothians deserve no less. I will reinforce this position at the next meeting. If we can deliver this, Plymouth will be one step closer to being the best city to live, work and raise a family.
I was able to help secure better outcomes at Derriford Hospital and we can and must for NHS dentistry. By working in tandem with local NHS leaders, I delivered significant improvements at Derriford. Emergency care has seen a £25 million upgrade and Derriford is getting a new hospital by 2027. I’ve delivered close on £300m of extra spending on health in the city since 2015. I am determined to do the same on dentistry.
It goes without saying that we are beyond the time for action on dental care. I welcome the pilot running in Plymouth schools for supervised toothbrushing, but we need to be doing much, much more. Plymouth’s dentistry crisis is not a quick fix, but there are identifiable problems which the task force can be tackling now. Chief among these are filling the approximately 13 full-time dentist vacancies in NHS practices and reinvesting the current underspend of Plymouth funding to improve access to dental services across the city.
Do keep telling me your struggles with dentistry in the City. If you would like to raise any issues about the dental task force, please contact me via email@example.com or 01752 876979. Furthermore, if you would like to be notified about what I am doing in Plymouth, including when I next write an op-ed for the Herald, please sign up to my mailing list here.