There is no escaping that it is extremely difficult for some people in Somerset to access NHS dental care. This is understandably distressing, and I share the enormous concern of many constituents. I have made it a priority of mine to resolve this serious problem and have been clear with my Ministerial colleagues that the situation is unacceptable.
Access to NHS dentistry is very much a national problem that requires a long-term, national solution. I recently helped arrange a session for MPs to discuss local access issues with the Chief Dental Officer, Sara Hurley, in the House of Commons. Ms Hurley accepted that issues with the NHS contract need to be urgently addressed, but also emphasised that local Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) are now responsible for commissioning services and have agency to work with practices to improve take-up of the contract locally.
I thus met with the Chief Executive of Somerset ICB, Jonathan Higman, to emphasise my desire that he prioritises improving access to NHS dentistry. I pressed him to urgently identify opportunities to improve local provision through increased commissioning to meet population demand, to implement a dental access plan for patients without a regular practice, and to ensure those in urgent need of dental care can receive treatment locally.
I will remain in regular contact with the Dentistry Minister, NHS England the ICB to ensure they remain sharply focussed on reforms that improve access to NHS dental care in Somerset, and will keep constituents updated on the progress that is made.
I would also encourage you to join me in doing so by making your concerns about the lack of dental provision in Somerset clear to the ICB by contacting their Patient Advice and Liaison Service via email at: email@example.com.