John Lewis, chair of the North Cumbria Local Dental Committee, says NHS dentistry has “become unsustainable.” He is calling for the contract to be updated to prevent more practices from going private.

John’s comments follow the announcement that Goodwin and Associated Dental Practice, a practice in Cockermouth, will no longer provide NHS dentistry. The practice said, “After many years providing NHS dentistry for the people of Cockermouth and surrounding areas, we have had to make the difficult decision to transition from an NHS to a private practice.

“As the recent health select committee has evidenced, the current NHS dental contract is not fit for this purpose.

"Continuing to provide NHS care was financially unsustainable as a business. In order to continue to provide dental care to Cockermouth we have no option but to offer private care only."

John told ITVX that the problem is related to contract and recruitment issues. He explained, “Cumbria is known as a dental desert. Dentists like to work in the areas near where they qualified. We're a long way from a full dental hospital or a full teaching hospital. You lack that security of having support, having a network and Cumbria is remote.”

“In 2006, when the new contract appeared, a lot of practices in Cumbria reduced their NHS commitment, but retained it for children," added John.

"It's national policy not to allow children's-only contracts anymore, so the practices that have converted have all tried to retain their children's contracts, but they've been rejected."

John is also the principal of Ghyllmount Dental Practice in Penrith. His practice went “largely private 19 years ago.” One-fifth of the practice’s work is in the NHS, accounting for 2.7 per cent of its income.

John commented, "What the practices are paid is based on what we earned in 2004 and 2005. That's 20 years ago, and they haven't gone up drastically since that point.

"So I could do a filling on a child, and I'll be paid £75 for it, whereas my colleague across the road would be paid £105 for doing exactly the same treatment, and it's become unsustainable."

A spokesman for the Department for Health and Social Care said, "We have worked closely with the British Dental Association and others to reform the dental contract in 2022, including paying dentists more for treating more complex patients.

"We have seen improvements, with 1.7m more adults and 800,000 more children seeing a dentist last year compared to 2022.

"We continue this work with industry to develop further reforms that will properly reflect the different care needs of patients, fairly remunerate practices, and expand and support the NHS dental workforce.

“Our new £200m dental recovery plan will create an additional 2.5m appointments over the next 12 months. It will offer cash incentives to take on NHS patients and £20,000 golden hellos for dentists who work in underserved areas."

In response, John said, “The £200m is not new money, it's recycled money from dentists that have not completed their contracts.

"The Golden Hellos have been available in Cumbria for over a year and there hasn't been a single applicant for them.

"Dumfries and Galloway is offering a higher golden hello than Cumbria does, so why would people not just go across the border?"