Starmer says he sees private dentist after insisting he ‘doesn’t use private health’

An acute shortage of dentists is creating so-called 'dentistry deserts'
An acute shortage of dentists is creating so-called 'dentistry deserts' - Getty Images

Sir Keir Starmer has said that he uses a private dentist, despite previously insisting he would not use any private healthcare.

The Labour leader said during an election debate on Sky News on Wednesday night that he uses a private dentist because he is not eligible for NHS care.

His comment came after he used a previous TV debate to say that he would not use private healthcare even if a relative were stuck on an NHS waiting list.

Sir Keir made the remarks as he answered a question from an audience member in Grimsby over how he would tackle the lack of NHS dentists.

After his initial answer, he was asked whether he used private dentistry himself.

The Labour leader replied: “We’re at an NHS dentist practice, but I’m private because I’m an adult and therefore don’t get it on the NHS. But our kids get NHS dentistry and I believe in it.”

Adults can access NHS dentistry, but usually have to pay a fee to cover the cost, ranging from £26.80 for a basic examination to £319.10 for treatment such as bridging and crowns.

Free NHS dentistry care is only available to under 18s, women who are pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months, and to those on low income benefits.

Even for those people it can often be extremely hard to find a dentist on the health service because there is an acute shortage, creating so-called “dentistry deserts”.

Last week, Sir Keir said in a separate ITV debate that he would never use private healthcare.

He said: “I don’t use private health. I use the NHS. That’s where my wife works, in one of the big hospitals; as I said, it runs through my DNA.”

Official data shows that just one in 10 adults were able to see an NHS dentist locally over the past year in some of the worst affected parts of the country.

The analysis by think tank Onward follows national figures showing that just four in 10 adults saw a dentist in the years 2022 to 2023.

Children are recommended to have a check up annually, but just half saw an NHS dentist.

Sir Keir said he would tackle the problem by creating 700,000 new urgent NHS dentistry appointments, including 100,000 for children.

He also said Labour would pay newly qualifying dentists incentive payments to set up NHS practices in parts of the country with acute shortages.

“How have we got to this state in 2024 where basic things like dentistry are a problem in our country. What on earth has happened to get us to this place?” he said.

“We’ve got to fix it. I look forward, on the first day we get into government, to starting on this job. I just want to get on with the job.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “Keir Starmer wasn’t honest when he ran to be Labour leader and he’s not being honest now.

“He said he wouldn’t pay for private healthcare for his loved ones last week. This week he’s admitted he has it.

“Last week he said he wasn’t going to raise taxes, now its emerged Rachel Reeves is planning to raise 12 taxes. But we know that because Labour’s plans are unfunded and going to cost working families £2,094.

“They are refusing to say what they would do because they know it would lose them votes. Keir Starmer is asking for a blank cheque and it’s becoming clear what he wants to do with it - put up your taxes. Only Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have a clear plan to cut taxes, backed by bold action, to chart a course to a more secure future for Britain.”

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