A campaign for better dentistry services to cut a huge backlog and waiting times has been reinforced, as a County Durham MP warned of the devastating impact the delays are having on the public. 

The government has been urged to stop telling people that NHS dentistry is on the road to recovery and instead deliver a rescue package after new figures exposed a worrying decline in dentists working for the NHS. Now, Mary Kelly Foy MP has called on the Prime Minister to correct the record and admit that the number of dentists working in the NHS is falling.

The Labour MP for the City of Durham has campaigned for the Government to acknowledge the current crisis gripping NHS dentistry, which has seen County Durham become described as a “dental desert” after research showed no practices in the county were accepting new NHS patients.

Ms Foy raised the case of her constituent Ray whose oral cancer went undiagnosed after being unable to see an NHS dentist. She said: “My constituent Ray was forced to go private. It was then discovered that he had a large, aggressive tumour in his face and jaw, and 16 hours of gruelling surgery was required to remove it. 

“If he had not been able to afford it, Ray might not be with us now. This is yet another chapter in the horror story that is the decay of dentistry on this government’s watch, so does the Prime Minister accept that NHS dentistry is in crisis, and will he meet me and the British Dental Association to ensure that no one loses their life because they could not get a dental appointment—yes or no?”

The Prime Minister responded by saying there are 500 more NHS dentists. Rishi Sunak replied: “Discussions are ongoing between the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS around dentistry, and DHSC is planning to outline further reform measures in the near future.”

New figures show just 23,577 dentists performed NHS work in the 2022/23 financial year, down 695 on the previous year, and over 1,100 down on numbers pre-pandemic, meaning the workforce is at its lowest level since 2012/13. Campaigners say the figures are at odds with repeated claims from the Prime Minister that 500 additional dentists recorded as delivering NHS work in the 2021/22 financial year reflect the success of recent government reforms.

Read next: 

The upcoming closure of dental practices in Bishop Auckland and Shildon is just one of many issues around local dentistry that is affecting residents at the moment, with thousands of patients forced to pay for private dental care or receive no treatment at all. 

Responding, Mary Kelly Foy MP added:“For months the prime minister has tried to present a rosy alternative reality whereby NHS dentistry is not decaying before patients’ eyes, but these figures confirm that the government is pushing dodgy dental data rather than admitting there is an urgent crisis requiring swift action. The prime minister must come to parliament to admit his mistake and present a rescue plan for NHS dentistry as a matter of urgency. ”

The Labour MP will be leading an adjournment debate on the state of NHS dentistry in Durham on Wednesday in the House of Commons.