Cornwall dentist Rishi Sunak visited is not taking on new NHS patients

  • Rishi Sunak says the government's new plans will make a "significant difference" to NHS patients.

Rishi Sunak has admitted it "hasn't been easy enough" for people to access dental care in recent years during a visit to a practice in Cornwall that isn't taking on new adult patients.

The Prime Minister met staff and patients at Gentle Dental in Newquay on Thursday 8 February.

According to Labour figures, the South West is one of the worst affected regions in England for access to dental care, with 99% of practices not accepting any new adult patients.

No practices in Cornwall are taking on new patients above the age of 18. The nearest sites doing so are more than 160 miles away - a one-way drive of more than four hours - in Marlborough and Southampton. 

The Government has said it is "determined to fix the issues” with NHS dentistry. Credit: PA

Speaking in his first interview with ITV News West Country since becoming prime minister, Rishi Sunak said the government is committed to introducing millions more NHS appointments for patients under new plans.

He promised the plans will make a "significant difference and quickly" to NHS patients.

But leading dentists said the recovery package will not be enough to help people struggling to access dental care.

The scene in Bristol as people queued to register with an NHS dentist Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

It comes after scenes in Bristol earlier this week, where hundreds of people queued outside a dental practice after it opened its books for NHS patients.

Police were even called to manage the lines forming in the St Pauls area, which had been without a practice for seven months.

Speaking on Tuesday, Eddie Crouch, Chair of the British Dental Association (BDA) said that it was "completely shocking" that people had to queue on the streets in order to get NHS dental access.

"We believe it is one area of the NHS which has seen a net reduction of around £1 billion than ten years ago.

"It highlights the problems that are developing across the country, Bristol is not isolated with a problem of access."

On Tuesday, the government announced its recovery plan to try and improve the state of dentistry across the country.

As part of the plans, dentists are to be offered cash to take on new patients and given £20,000 “golden hellos” to work in communities with a lack of NHS dental services.

Around a million people who have not seen a dentist for two or more years are expected to benefit as officials offer a “new patient payment” of £15 to £50.

Other measures included in the plan include dentists being paid more for NHS work, a “Smile for Life” advice programme aimed at new parents, and the rollout of so-called “dental vans” in rural and coastal communities.

The prime minister was asked by ITV News if he can guarantee that under the plans, everyone will now have access to an NHS dentist.

"It hasn't been easy enough for people to access NHS dentistry over the past couple of years", he told ITV News.

"Particularly as a result of the impact of the pandemic, which hit dentistry harder than almost anything else because they were the hardest thing to continue during Covid.

"The announcements this week will make a significant difference and quickly", he said.

"Two and a half million more NHS appointments to get levels back to what they were pre-Covid, attracting dentists to work in under-served areas - this will be particularly valuable in areas like the South West, mobile vans going into underserved areas."