Dental hygienists could be granted the power to administer certain medicines without the need for a prescription under plans to improve access to dentistry in England.
A consultation will be launched by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on how dental hygienists and dental therapists "can be better supported to provide additional care to patients and reduce unnecessary delays". It forms part of the Primary Care Recovery Plan – which was unveiled in May – and comes ahead of the long-awaited dental recovery plan, which the Government said is "due to be announced shortly".
Patients "Deserve Real Reform"
However, a professional body called for "real reform" of NHS dentistry. Eddie Crouch, chair of the British Dental Association, said: "Barely a week goes by without government re-announcing the same tweaks to a failed contract. Dental hygienists and therapists make a vital contribution to patient care, but there's no army waiting in the wings to work under a broken NHS system.
"Millions are struggling to access needed care. Our patients deserve real reform, not more tinkering at the margins."
In July a damning report on NHS dentistry was published, with some patients admitting they have been forced to pull out their own teeth. The Health and Social Care Committee's examination called for "urgent and fundamental reform" and said there was evidence of pain and distress that is "totally unacceptable in the 21st century".
The document included a YouGov poll of 2,104 people across the UK conducted in March 2023, in which 10% admitted to attempting "DIY dentistry". Case studies also highlighted how people had pulled problem teeth out with pliers, or been forced to make a 5-hour round trip to see an NHS dentist.
Progress on Primary Care Recovery Plan
The Government said progress is being made on the Primary Care Recovery Plan, with talks ongoing with NHS England and pharmaceutical companies.
As well as potentially granting more powers to dental hygienists, a consultation exploring the potential for registered pharmacy technicians to administer medicines will also be launched. Health minister Neil O'Brien said the Government wants to "make sure we are making the best use of skilled professionals" while "freeing up dentists and pharmacists to carry out vital services".
Elsewhere, the Primary Care Recovery Plan will ensure all GP surgeries switch to digital phone lines by March 2024 to end the 8am rush for an appointment. More than 1000 practices have signed up for the upgrade, which is backed by a £240 million investment.
Women could also have access to oral contraception through pharmacies rather than their family doctor, while patients who need prescription drugs for seven common conditions, such as earache or shingles, could receive it without a GP appointment.
Blood pressure checks at local pharmacies will also be expanded.