NHS dentistry is in a crisis – and only the government can resolve it. That’s according to the British Dental Association (BDA) who is calling on ministers to act upon the news that seven million people have not seen an NHS dentist for almost two years because they cannot find a practice that will accept them.
Recent official NHS figures had put the total at two million.
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) survey was based on a poll of 1800 people in England and Wales and it found 34% of people have not visited a dentist since the new contract in April 2006.
Lack of access to the NHS was the most commonly cited reason, mentioned by 31% of those who have not been to an NHS dentist since that time.
The situation is worsened by the fact that record number of dentists are defecting to the private sector, illustrated by recent NHS figures.
The BDA argues that dentists and primary care trusts need to be supported by the government if access for patients is to be improved.
Susie Sanderson, chair of the BDA’s executive board, said the survey ‘highlights once again the significant number of people who would like to access NHS dentistry but are unable to do so’.
She said: ‘It is clear that the new dental contract has, so far, not achieved the stated aim of improving access to NHS care.
‘The government recently announced a much-needed 11% boost in funding for NHS dentistry and set itself the target of increasing the number of patients able to access the service.
‘To ensure this funding makes a real difference, it’s vital that primary care trusts engage positively with dentists and also have the expertise and support required to meet the dental needs of their local communities.’
Health Minister Ann Keen said: ‘We are working hard to improve access to NHS dentists and the Government remains fully committed to expanding services.’
She said 80% of primary care trusts had dedicated helplines for those struggling to find a local dentist, and anyone needing urgent dental care would receive help.
There has been a 16% collapse in the proportion of dentist’s earnings made from the NHS from the years 1999-2000 to 2005-06, according figures released by the NHS Information Centre.
The fall in NHS earnings has accelerated in the past two years and is most pronounced among young dentists.
NHS incomes fell by over 20% in a single year from 2004-05 to 2005-06, as a proportion of total earnings, among dentists aged under 35.
Young dentists now earn on average only just over a third of their income (36%) from the NHS.
Patients’ organisations recently voiced fears that the decline in NHS dentistry could lead to the eventual collapse of the NHS dental service.