The British Dental Association (BDA) is urging the government to take action following the results of a survey of primary care services that reveals poor access to NHS dental provision.
Between January and April this year, more than 69,000 people in England were asked about their experiences of GP practices and health centres and about access to dentists for the Healthcare Commission’s National Survey of Local Health Services 2008.
And although more patients are saying they are ‘completely satisfied’ with care in GP practices and health centres, the survey revealed that patients want improved access to NHS dentists.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends the longest period an adult should go without visiting the dentist is two years.
In the independent watchdog’s survey, 26% of respondents said they do not see a dentist once every two years, and in several trusts this was as high as 43%.
Exactly 50% of respondents said they visited an NHS dentist this regularly, while 24% did so as a non-NHS patient and 79% of those who did not receive NHS dentistry would like to be able to do so, with this figure ranging from 54% to 88% across trusts.
Also saying this were 81% of those who had not seen a dentist at all in the last two years, ranging from 67% to 96% across trusts.
Reacting to the Healthcare Commission’s survey, Susie Sanderson, Chair of the BDA’s Executive Board, said: ‘The Government has received yet another powerful message about the state of NHS dentistry.
‘The concern highlighted by the Healthcare Commission is that real problems for patients could be being stored up for the future.
‘It’s vital that urgent action is taken to tackle the flaws in the current NHS arrangements for dentistry, recently criticised so emphatically by the Health Select Committee.
‘We also need to start looking carefully about what is meant by access to an NHS dentist and recognising the importance of the continuity of care.’
The National Survey of Local Health Services 2008 (Healthcare Commission) is the fifth survey of people’s experiences of local health services to be carried out since 2003.
More than 69,000 people took part this year, which is a response rate of 40%.
The results of the survey aims to offer a valuable insight into peoples’ experiences of local health services, such as GP practices and health centres and accessing dentistry.
The idea is that the information is then used by Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to improve the services that they provide to their local population.
Anna Walker, the Commission’s Chief Executive, said: ‘Access to NHS dental care is also a continuing concern and this survey shows where people are most worried about this around the country.
‘Regular dental treatment is important for maintaining good oral hygiene. If a large proportion of people do not receive this treatment regularly, we could be facing a significant national health problem in years to come.
‘Publication of this survey, with comparative information, will help trusts and GPs to address patients’ concerns.
‘In assessing the performance of primary care trusts, we at the Commission will take account of patients’ views and ask questions about the issues raised. We recognise the national concerns about dental care and we will be highlighting gaps where they occur.’