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Health secretary Matt Hancock urged to prioritise NHS treatment after backing private Access mydentist scheme

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The British Dental Association has urged the MP for West Suffolk to prioritise NHS treatment for all after he backed a private scheme which was launched to help cope with the lack of NHS places.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he supported the idea behind Access mydentist – an ‘affordable’ alternative to NHS dental care which is being rolled out at a number of mydentist practices, including its one in Mildenhall.

Speaking to the Bury Free Press, he said: “Dentistry has always been a mixed market with some people paying and others on the NHS and that system has served Britain well for a long time and any ideas for how to strengthen that offer are very welcome.

Health secretary Matt Hancock visited the mydentist surgery in Mildenhall to meet staff and tour the surgery. (6749255)
Health secretary Matt Hancock visited the mydentist surgery in Mildenhall to meet staff and tour the surgery. (6749255)

“About a fifth of dentists are companies like mydentist and they play a really important role in delivering a good service to keep our nation’s teeth strong.”

Tom Riall, mydentist chief executive, said the scheme was launched to provide ‘good dental care quickly’ to those who were unable to register as an NHS patient such as families and individuals in Bury St Edmunds who were currently facing a 20-mile round trip to the nearest surgery taking adult NHS patients.

“We’ve developed an affordable range of private dentistry because so many practices are closed to NHS patients and private care is outside of what many can afford,” he said.

“Our aim is not to compete with the NHS but to work alongside it to provide those patients who are facing large waiting times with the NHS with good dental care quickly.”

But despite the scheme’s prices being described by Mr Riall as ‘marginally above’ NHS costs, a round of treatment – covering a root canal and a filling with a crown – could see patients pay up to £390 more.

When asked if he hoped to see the Mildenhall practice re-open to NHS patients soon, Mr Riall said he’d prefer patients to ‘take up an affordable private option’ instead.

But Healthwatch Suffolk and the BDA both expressed concern that, while patients valued a choice between private and NHS care, dependence on private dental treatment would leave families in Bury with no option.

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “The right care should never be dependent upon where you live or whether you can afford it. Commissioners at NHS England must strive for fair and equitable access for all patients and that must be an absolute priority.”

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of general dental practice at the BDA, said: “Far from being at the centre of the NHS, dentistry remains the Cinderella service.

“We have budget to fund care for barely half the population and government seem intensely relaxed when patients can’t secure access and vacancies in our practices go unfilled.”

He added: “We have patients on low incomes who rely on NHS dentistry. Matt Hancock has a responsibility to ensure anyone who wants NHS care can access it.”