Dentistry: Access for Cancer Patients

Part of Antimicrobial Resistance – in Westminster Hall am 5:23 pm ar 17 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 5:23, 17 Ebrill 2024

Thank you for chairing this debate today, Mr Dowd. I thank Andrew Western for bringing the debate to the Chamber, and I thank all Members who have spoken. It is really good to have their constituents’ input and thoughts on the issues they face. I especially thank Michele for the campaign she has been running, which is the reason why this debate is taking place today. It is incredibly important that these issues are aired, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government are planning to do to improve the situation. It clearly cannot continue.

I want to talk a little about some of the things that we are doing in Scotland. Honestly, this sounds like the conversation I remember having 20 years ago in Scotland about being unable to get an NHS dentist. When I moved house in 2016 in Aberdeen, I had the choice of two different NHS dentists to go to. Everybody was like, “There’s no problem getting an NHS dentist now,” because of everything that has been put in place in Scotland to ensure that we can have those NHS dentists. More than 95% of the population in Scotland is registered with an NHS dentist and therefore able to get free dental check-ups.

Part of the increase in the amount of NHS dentists was the result of the creation of a new dental school in Aberdeen, specifically because we recognised the fact that Aberdeen was struggling with dentists. We created a new dental school there, which has had a significant impact on the numbers of dentists in Scotland. We also have various measures to ensure that dentists move to areas that are struggling to get any, as Richard Foord mentioned. A £37,000 golden hello package is available for trainee dentists who are willing to move to areas that desperately need dentists. That is over the course of a three-year period of practice, so it is not like they get it all on one day—they have to be there for the three years to get the £37,000. There has also been a change in the amount of money that dentists get for the treatments they provide, to ensure that they are properly compensated, that they are able to do the treatments and that it is affordable for them to continue as an NHS dentist, rather than feeling obliged to go private.

Lastly, Brexit has had a significant impact on the NHS dental workforce and how it works. We are struggling with the loss of dentists because of Brexit. My husband was talking about his most recent dentists being Greek, Polish and Romanian, but the change in the relationship with the EU means that the situation is more difficult. People are less likely to want to stay in the UK as a dentist when they could stay in the country of their birth, closer to their homes, with people they feel might actually want them, rather than people who have voted for Brexit. The negative change there is causing a problem.

Specifically on cancer patients and the cancer strategy, in Scotland we have a 10-year strategy for cancer and it is a national priority for the Scottish Government. Everything done for cancer support is about having a person-centred outcome. A person-centred approach to support ensures personalisation, so that everyone gets a variety of the supports that they need, rather than a variety of the supports that exist or that happen to be—“You have this type of cancer so we will give you this.” Instead, it is very much a person-centred approach.

People undergoing cancer treatment could be eligible for free dental treatment and check-ups in a variety of ways. Some people on universal credit who meet income thresholds can get free treatment. For anyone who is an in-patient and treated by dentists in hospitals—which we have—that treatment is, again, free. A low-income health scheme is in place as well. Given the much wider availability of NHS dentists in Scotland, people are able to access such services and are much more likely to get free treatment, because of the increase in the numbers.

I did not want to talk for too long. This is not a concern that affects a significant number of my constituents, because they have access to dental services at this incredibly worrying time. They are able to get appointments, so it is one less thing for them to worry about when their lives are a complete and total rollercoaster. The Minister must ensure that we do everything we can for people who have had a cancer diagnosis and are going through treatment. Their lives have potentially changed dramatically overnight, and a lack of accessible and affordable dentistry services is one more thing that they do not need to be worrying about right now. They need to concentrate on getting through their treatment, on the support they are receiving, on ensuring that they can get well as quickly as possible, and on following doctors’ instructions and guidance. People do not need to be worrying about dentistry.

The Minister must do everything possible to ensure that personalised treatment is provided and that an increase in access to NHS dentists is in place. If there is not to be a widespread increase in access to NHS dentists across England in the near future, is there anything the Minister can do in the meantime to prioritise the treatment of cancer patients? They need to be able to access appropriate dental treatments that they can afford as soon as possible, until the NHS in England is in a position to offer dentistry services at a reasonable level and people can actually access treatments.