The speech made by Anthony Mangnall, the Conservative MP for Totnes, in the House of Commons on 14 January 2021.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) on securing this debate.
The impact of covid on the dental sector has been profound, from the sector’s closure in March to the 20 million lost appointments, the 15 million-appointment backlog and the year-on-year decrease in those who visit the dentist. In previous years, being able to avoid the dentist may have seemed an art form, but it is rapidly becoming a significant and desperately serious problem, with mouth cancer diagnoses significantly down and major operations being put on hold or just avoided due to lack of access.
It is right that we have to clear the significant backlog. While I do not oppose the concept of a UDA target, I do oppose the mechanism that penalises dentists who do not meet that target. I respectfully ask the Minister to consider whether the target could be rejigged so that people have the security and understanding that if they are unable to meet it, they will not see a loss of salary or any penalisation from the Government. Of course, we have already heard that 50% of dental practices are meeting that target, so we have seen an ability to deliver.
The intent is right, but the mechanism is wrong and only adds to the extra stress that those who work in dental practices are already suffering. I do not deny that dental practices in my constituency are safe, but the individual set-up of each is very different; things such as the air purification systems that they implement will mean that they have different fallow times and will therefore also impact the UDA issue. There is a result here whereby different circumstances will mean that the overall target is unable to be met.
I ask the Government to consider taking away the penalisation mechanism of UDAs, reimbursing the VAT costs faced by dentists on PPE, and ensuring that our dentists are treated as part of the primary healthcare network. We hope to encourage people to stay in this sector. We want them to do so—we do not want them to go towards private alone—so I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me and many of the dental practices in my constituency.
Dentists are not asking for any more than anyone else, but they have received significantly less than many of those out there. All that we ask the Government today is to treat our dental sector with the respect that it deserves and to help it deliver for those who most need it across the whole United Kingdom.