Sally Nugent: Am I right in thinking the budget for NHS dentistry has dropped by £500m since 2014
Victoria Atkins: Our budget is £3b
— Haggis_UK 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@Haggis_UK) February 7, 2024
A Tory minister was skewered on live TV as she repeatedly refused to say whether the NHS dentist budget has been slashed over the last 10 years.
Health secretary Victoria Atkins dodged the question seven times as she was grilled by Sally Nugent on BBC Breakfast this morning.
She was trying to publicise a new “dental recovery plan” being launched by the government to boost the number of patients able to get NHS appointments across England.
Dentists will be given bonuses of £20,000 to encourage them to move to areas where people are struggling to get appointments.
Overall, ministers are planning to spend £200 million on the new blueprint, which will also see reception age children given extra help to brush their teeth.
But Nugent asked the minister: “Am I right in thinking that actually the budget for NHS dentistry has dropped by £500m since 2014?
“So you might be putting in an extra £200m, but that’s from a point where their budget is hugely smaller than it was 10 years ago.”
Atkins replied: “A lot has happened since 2014.”
Nugent asked her again: “The budget’s dropped, hasn’t it?”
After Atkins repeated that “our budget is £3 billion”, the presenter told her: “Which is lower than it was.”
As the minister tried to dodge the question, Nugent said: “Just to bring you back one more time. Is the budget lower than it was?”
Once again, the minister replied: “The budget is £3 billion.”
Nugent then asked: “But is that lower that it was?”
After Atkins said the government was spending more on the NHS than ever before, Nugent again asked: “Is [the dental budget] lower than it was?”
For the third time, the minister said “It’s a £3bn budget”, prompting Nugent to ask: “So is it lower?”
Stumbling over her words, Atkins said: “A lot has happened in those 10 years that you’re talking about.”
After Nugent again asked the minister “is it less”, Atkins then attacked Labour for criticising the government’s plan.
But the presenter replied: “To be fair Victoria Atkins, it’s not Labour asking you these questions, it’s me.”
The scale of the dental crisis in England has been highlighted this week by images of huge queues of people trying to sign up for an NHS dentist in Bristol.
Dentists have also condemned the new government plan.
Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, said: “This ‘Recovery Plan’ is not worthy of the title.
“It won’t halt the exodus from the workforce or offer hope to millions struggling to access care. Nothing here meets government’s stated ambitions, or makes this service fit for the future.
“Ministers wanted to stop dentistry becoming an election issue. By rearranging the deckchairs they’ve achieved the exact opposite.”