The importance of tackling inequalities

Barry Cockcroft CBE, Chief Dental Officer for England, discusses the key theme emerging from the Call To Action for Improving Dental Care and Oral Health:

I want to thank everybody who has taken part in the Dental Call to Action debate so far – whether you have taken the time to complete our on-line survey, attended one of the events or discussed the issues within your own organisation.

As part of the feedback from the first 12-week phase of the engagement process, we have asked an independent third party to analyse the responses so that we may properly understand what we have been told. We will publish their report in the next few weeks, together with responses submitted by organisations and reports on the outcome of events.

As we come to the end of this first phase, one of the key themes already to emerge loud and clear is the need to address the unacceptable inequalities in the nation’s oral health.

This was something that was highlighted in the Call to Action document itself.

Although we have in England among the best levels of oral health in the world, inequalities remain that demand a concerted effort from everyone involved in the commissioning, planning and delivery of dental and other related health and social care services.

The causes of health inequalities are complex and multi-factorial. I am referring to poorer oral health and poorer outcomes for vulnerable people and seldom heard groups that are related to difficulties in accessing NHS dental services, poor understanding or appreciation of the importance of prevention and self-care, and a health and social care system that is perhaps not designed with their particular needs in mind.

Under the auspices of a ‘Call to Action’ we have asked independent experts to conduct focus groups with a number of seldom heard groups to hear first-hand their experiences and understanding of NHS dental services. We will publish the resulting report.

I will also be inviting patient representative groups to share their insights on our emerging findings during the second phase of engagement in the next few weeks, with a particular focus on the needs of vulnerable people.

We will also consider the recommendations of a multi-agency task force that was established by NHS England last year to consider how the oral health needs of people from hard-to-reach groups might be addressed.

The task force concluded the key issue is that of variability of service provision for people in vulnerable groups, and their frequent inability to seek out or demand higher quality or more appropriate care. The task force has gathered examples of good practice from across the country – which we will also share – and has made a number of recommendations for NHS England, Public Health England, dental providers and others.

We aim to publish our response to the Call to Action in the autumn.

This will include our response to what we have heard about health inequalities but will also address wider issues around access to NHS dental services, improving quality and outcomes, and the dental workforce – ensuring alignment with the ongoing process of dental contract reform.

However, we still have more work to do with our stakeholders over the coming months so please keep an eye out for the future reports on the Call to Action that we will publish on this website.

Barry Cockcroft

Barry Cockcroft qualified from Birmingham Dental School in 1973 and worked for 27 years in NHS general dental practice.

He was elected to the General Dental Services Committee of the British Dental Association in 1990, serving on many sub-committees and working groups before being elected vice-chairman in 2000.

He was appointed Deputy Chief Dental Officer for England in November 2002 and appointed as Chief Dental Officer in 2006.

In 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Central Lancashire for his contribution to the dental profession.

He was awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours List of 2010.

A year later, Barry was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the Faculty of General Dental Practice.