'Dismayed' campaigners have branded dental plans for the county 'fundamentally flawed' ahead of a board meeting today. 

Suffolk and North East Essex (SNEE) Integrated Care Board meets today, March 26, where Peter Wightman, ICB west Suffolk alliance director, will seek endorsement of the Improving Oral Health in SNEE: ICB Dental Plan.

Mark Jones, a spokesperson for the Toothless in England campaign group, which launched in Leiston in 2021, said, "At the start of April 2023, ICBs across the country took over responsibility for commissioning NHS dentistry.

"This plan has taken at least year to put together, but we believe it’s fundamentally flawed.

"We cannot, in all honesty, endorse the approach they’re choosing to take.

Ipswich Star: Mark Jones, a spokesperson for the Toothless in England campaign groupMark Jones, a spokesperson for the Toothless in England campaign group (Image: Mark Jones)

"SNEE’s strategy is underdeveloped and lacks any real evidence suggesting that patients will be better provided for in the future.

"It offers no hope for those suffering in pain right now, nor does it make any great strides towards procuring mobile dental clinics to treat underserved rural and coastal communities, something we’ve called for from day one.

"It certainly exaggerates ICB's local commissioner benefits and may well suffer from optimism bias.

"Although we applaud the fact that they've put together a plan and hope to be included in future discussions and briefings – even though there’s no sign they’re actually listening to us – its flaws are significant," he added. 

Mr Jones said one of the key issues with the plan is that no 'oral health needs assessment' has been carried out prior to the report going before the board.

The published board papers read: "The draft plan will continue to develop - in response to stakeholder feedback and in response to the impact of the dental care recovery plan published by the Government in February 24.

"Some further work is planned to triangulate data sources including the oral health needs assessment to inform the commissioning priorities within the plan.

"For example, this can help us understand where (town or neighbourhood) new service procurements should be planned." 

Ipswich Star: Toothless in Suffolk protest in LeistonToothless in Suffolk protest in Leiston (Image: Charlotte Bond)

The report states that, across SNEE, Ipswich had the highest prevalence of dental decay in five-year-olds in 2022 at 21.1%.

This is higher than the regional average for East of England, which stood at 19.3%. 

According to the board papers, the plan would involve nine programmes including prevention, workforce development, orthodontics and paediatrics.

Measures mentioned in the board papers include increasing training places for dental care professionals and increasing the number of whole-time equivalent NHS dental providers in SNEE. 

Goals include the commissioning of services across SNEE for several groups including people with a learning disability and people with autism, children in care and care leavers, people in care homes and people requiring emergency and urgent care.

The report states the ICB would continue to consult with stakeholders, review feedback and adjust the plan accordingly, including discussion around the introduction of water fluoridation. 

A SNEE ICB spokesperson said: "NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care Board (SNEE ICB) has developed the Improving Oral Health in SNEE: ICB Dental Plan by working with local dental leaders.

"As experienced practising dentists, their knowledge has informed us of how we can best improve access to NHS dental care. 

"Some of these changes are live now or will be starting next month. For example, we have commissioned 20 practices across SNEE to increase their opening hours to offer additional NHS sessions for patients in priority groups (children in care or with a protection plan, those with a learning disability, dementia or resident in a care home). 

"This will include 51 extra weekly sessions in evenings and weekends plus 48 bank holiday sessions. We will publish further details in due course with regards to who is eligible, where services are located and how they can be accessed."

They said improving oral health broadly 'will take longer' and their plans include investing in prevention, procuring additional NHS dental contracts, targeting areas with most unmet need for NHS services, working with local dental practices and universities to help recruit, retain and develop the future dental workforce and commissioning improvements to secondary care

"The ICB has consulted widely on the draft plan and received support from partners at the Integrated Care Partnership," they continued.

"The ICB has received feedback from Toothless in Suffolk on the draft plan and has offered to meet with the group to understand their concerns further."