Dental care call to action – the response so far

Barry Cockcroft CBE, NHS England’s Chief Dental Officer, gives an update: 

World Oral Health Day, with the theme of celebrating healthy smiles, coincided with the end of the first month of NHS England’s national engagement Improving Dental Care and Oral Health – A Call to Action (view this content on our archived website). This is a good time to take stock of the response so far.

The engagement is intended to stimulate debate at national and local level about how to improve oral health and outcomes while meeting the sustainability and financial challenges facing the wider NHS in England.

We have described our ambitions for reducing financial inefficiencies and improving the oral health of the nation through:  continuing contract reform; improved access to NHS dental services; promoting self-care amongst patients with a preventative approach to oral health; making a better use of the skills that reside in the wider primary care dental team; focusing on meeting the needs of seldom heard groups and those with historically poor levels of accessing NHS dental services; and developing networks and pathways for oral care.

I have been delighted at the level of interest in the debate so far.

We will hold a national stakeholder event in London on 7 April – and we have already stopped taking new registrations as we quickly reached our maximum limit of 200 people.

This tells me that there is a strong appetite for debate among our stakeholders and partner organisations, to which our area teams and dental local professional networks are responding by holding similar events locally.

The Call To Action runs until May 16, so there is still plenty of time to have your say.

To summarise my observations on the process so far and my ambitions for the remainder of the engagement:

  • We want to hear more from the patient groups – our eventual framework for commissioning NHS dental services will be all the stronger from being built on the solid insights of those who use NHS dental services, and of those who represent their interests. We are planning a number of focus groups across the country in the spring, focusing on ‘seldom heard’ groups, and we will want to test the emerging themes arising from the Call To Action with our national partner organisations before the engagement formally closes. If you are a local group with ideas on local engagement, please get in touch with your area team.
  • Tackling inequalities is a big priority – although many different studies demonstrate excellent oral health in England, it is a concern for all of us involved in dentistry that there remain too many inequalities in terms of access to NHS dental services and outcomes. I want this Call To Action to result in some really fundamental and practical measures for tackling these inequalities across the board. I want to include people from economically deprived areas; people from black and minority ethnic groups, who will have a higher prevalence of some oral diseases; people with particular health and social care needs; and users of mental health services.
  • We want to encourage and support local leadership – I’ve already had the pleasure of attending some local events across the country, and what has struck me is the acknowledgement among those present that change for the good in the way that NHS dental services are planned and delivered comes from strong local professional leadership – in collaboration with the whole range of health and social care agencies and community partners.
  • The clue is in the title – this is a Call To Action; while we in the centre do our best to enable change, we cannot (and should not) seek to impose it on local communities. The strongest change, with the most positive benefits for patients, will come from an integrated approach to how we address oral health needs. On a recent visit to the East Midlands I was pleased to see a truly joined up approach to addressing the local population’s oral health across local professionals, Health and Wellbeing Boards, NHS England’s area team, Public Health England and the local authority. We want to see communities translate bold ideas into bold actions.

We have a further two months of the engagement to run. I am excited at the opportunities that this provides for discussion and debate. We have merely set out a framework for discussion – but you control the agenda!

Please have your say by taking part in our on-line survey or through local engagement in your area.

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.