Stoke-on-Trent one of worst 'dental deserts' - how Labour plan to fix it

Stoke-on-Trent's 'dental desert' would be prioritised for investment by a Labour government, the party's shadow health secretary says. Wes Streeting visited Blurton today to launch Labour's plan to fix NHS dentistry, saying that the national shortage of dentists was affecting Stoke-on-Trent more than most areas.

Unveiling a new election campaign advert, featuring a set of rotten teeth, to an audience of candidates and activists at the Tollgate Hotel car park, Mr Streeting also insisted that Stoke-on-Trent remained a 'battleground' between his party and the Conservatives, despite polls currently projecting a Labour clean sweep in North Staffordshire.

Labour's dentistry plan includes providing an extra 700,000 urgent and emergency dental appointments a year, supervised toothbrushing for three to five-year-olds, and £20,000 'golden hellos' for dentists who spend at least three years working in underserved areas.

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Mr Streeting said: "Where we're getting new dentists in we're going to try to target their placement in areas like Stoke-on-Trent, which are dental deserts and where the service is, frankly, rock bottom. I think that will start to make an immediate impact.

"The main thing we've got to do is reform the NHS dentistry contract because we know there are loads of dentists out there who could be providing NHS dentistry but won't because the contract doesn't pay properly, and yet at the same time we had a £400 million underspend last year in the dentistry budget.

"I want to rebuild NHS dentistry. It's going to take time. Stoke-on-Trent will be a priority for me, because the service here is so bad.

"A lot of the NHS' challenges are about reform rather than investment, but I'm afraid NHS dentistry is one of those areas where it is largely about money. If dentists are earning so much more doing private work rather than NHS work, they're just going to vote with their feet."

The Conservative manifesto, meanwhile, also includes proposals for golden hellos along with plans to 'unlock' 2.5 million more dental appointments through a patient premium aimed at encouraging dentists to take on more NHS work. Throughout the election campaign the Conservatives have been insisting that a Labour government will put up taxes in order to fund its spending plans.

Mr Streeting reiterated Labour's denials, saying that their NHS plans would be 'fully-funded' by closing non-dom tax loopholes and reducing tax avoidance, with no rise in income tax, national insurance or VAT.

Stoke-on-Trent South, the constituency Mr Streeting visited, is likely to see the closest contest of the three Potteries seats, with Tory Jack Brereton defending a majority of 11,000 - with recent boundary changes bringing more Conservative-voting areas into the constituency. But polls currently give Labour a huge lead nationally, with some projections suggesting the party could win nearly every seat in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

Mr Streeting said he was 'so worried' that voters in the area were assuming that the election was already over as a contest, and insisted that Stoke-on-Trent remained a key battleground.

He added: "People in Stoke-on-Trent know that they have got a lot of power in their hands, in their ballot papers this election. This is a city that decides who governs Britain. If people want to see change after 14 years of Conservative failure, it's so important they turn out and vote for it. We're not remotely complacent. There are millions of undecided voters across the country. There are thousands of undecided voters across Stoke-on-Trent. We are so worried we could wake up to the nightmare of a fifth Conservative term."

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