I was very pleased to hear the Government’s plan to recover and reform NHS Dentistry that was announced by the Health Secretary on Wednesday. Many good measures were announced; new mobile dental vans into those areas where there are no NHS dental practices, a new patient premium for dentists treating new patients, measures to make it easier for those who are fully qualified abroad to be dentists and are already living in the UK to be able to operate here, alongside a consultation this spring on tie-in periods to the NHS for dentist graduates.

Two weeks ago, I asked a PMQ about whether newly qualified dental graduates should be obligated to work in the NHS for a time before going private or moving abroad. The Government have listened and now it is time to crack on and get it all implemented as soon as possible. In my question to the Prime Minister, I also raised the great new state-of-the-art dental centre opening at the University of Suffolk this spring. This will significantly increase NHS dental provision in Ipswich and will eventually carry out 18,000 hours of NHS dental appointments every year.

This is such an amazing achievement by the University of Suffolk and the local NHS. The University Vice-Chancellor Helen Langton deserves particular mention for the efforts she’s put into this project and the vision and determination she’s shown alongside my colleague Jo Churchill MP who has been a great advocate for increased NHS dental provision in Suffolk.

Last Friday, I visited the new Dental Centre to have a look around with two fellow Suffolk MPs, James Cartlidge MP and Peter Aldous MP. It is within the James Heir building on the University campus by the Waterfront. We had a preview tour of the University’s Centre for Dental Development which includes teaching rooms for its new course, BSC Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy. Above the teaching rooms will be 10 treatment rooms which will be operated by the University of Suffolk Dental Community Interest Company, which is housed in the same building.

The new NHS dental practice is still being equipped and is recruiting its new team. They expect to offer its first appointments after Easter. It will focus on the patients in Suffolk and Northeast Essex in greatest need. The details of how members of the public can access the NHS appointments on offer will be forthcoming and released in due course, with a focus on going out into the community to promote oral health.

The dental practice will be run by experienced dentists working with the new dental students and newly qualified dentists who have finished their five years who will be there to do additional training and gaining hands on experience alongside experienced personnel. It is crucial to note that the new students can carry out a lot of simple procedures, not just qualified dentists. They can carry out general fillings, check-ups, and hygienist appointments. This will significantly help to tackle the dental crisis we have experienced for far too long.

The new course in Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy has 24 places and the first cohort of students started their studies this week. The course has had great interest with 400 applicants. This demonstrates the large interest in dental studies in the region.

The University would like to build on this by becoming the first fully fledged dental school in the East of England. There is currently no University in East Anglia that offers a Dentistry Degree. The University of Suffolk is the logical choice and has my full support. The new dental centre is truly unique, there is no example of something like this happening in the country and it will make a significant contribution to helping to solve some of the access to NHS dental service issues we’ve seen locally.

We need to build on the new centre and ensure that we can train dentists locally. Dental students are more likely to stay in and around the area of where they trained so a dental school is the next logical step to ensuring dental provision for Ipswich and the East Anglian region.

I have long campaigned for better dental provision in Ipswich, participating in multiple debates, asking questions to the Prime Minister and Health Secretary alongside writing multiple letters of support for the recent developments at the university.

I am glad the ball is rolling but we now need to see the improvements on the ground. The new consultation this spring into NHS tie-in periods for dental graduates is something I will be following very closely. I am passionate about securing a tie-in period of five years for example, to ensure these dentists whose degrees are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer are obligated to give back to the NHS instead of moving abroad or going into private practice.

Tom Hunt is Conservative MP for Ipswich