Dental Tribune UK & Ireland

Analysis reveals millions unable to access NHS dentistry across England

By Dental Tribune UK
December 04, 2019

LONDON, UK: A general election is right around the corner, and access to NHS dentistry has been a hot-button issue for some time in the UK. New analysis conducted by the British Dental Association (BDA) of the government’s most recent GP Patient Survey has estimated that more than four million adult patients throughout England are unable to have their dental needs met by these services, suggesting that access is a problem in every region of the country.

In a press release, the BDA stated that its analysis indicated that 1.45 million adult patients have tried and failed to secure an NHS dental appointment within the last two years. A further two million were estimated to have not even attempted to make an appointment owing to the belief that they would be unable to secure one.

Though the government has previously acknowledged issues with access to NHS dentistry in areas like West Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cornwall, the BDA’s analysis suggests that areas that have not hitherto experienced significant problems, including many London boroughs and Brighton, are now some of the most affected areas.

Furthermore, the BDA posited that the GP Patient Survey indicates a lower success rate for NHS dental appointments among patients attempting to secure an appointment for the first time as well as among ethnic minorities.

As reported by Dental Tribune UK & Ireland, the Labour Party recently pledged to abolish charges for all dental check-ups in England if elected, in the hope that it will lead to more English residents visiting the dentist.

“Underfunding, failed contracts and recruitment problems are creating a perfect storm for patients,” said Dr Dave Cottam, the BDA’s chair of the General Dental Practice Committee.

“These access problems are no longer affecting a few ‘hotspots’, but are now the reality for millions across every English region. The public is entitled to access care, but the system is stacked against them. They face practices struggling to fill vacancies, NHS charges designed to discourage attendance, while our contracts cap patient numbers,” Cottam added.

“Those losing out are the patients who need us most. The next government owes it to them to ensure this service has a future,” he concluded.

Dr Ian Mills, dean of the Faculty of General Dental Practice UK, stated: “Successive governments have been reluctant to acknowledge that problems exist in NHS dentistry, let alone address the underlying issues, and have promoted a disingenuous fiction that comprehensive care is available to all those who need it.”

“Unfortunately many patients struggle to access NHS dental care as the funding simply does not provide the universal offer they expect, and others stay away due to patient charges, which have risen by 36% since 2010. The number of adults in England seeing an NHS dentist every two years has now declined to 50%, and only 60% of children see an NHS dentist each year. While access could be improved through better allocation of existing resources, truly universal access could only be achieved with greater funding,” Mills concluded.

The GP Patient Survey for 2019 can be accessed here.

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