The Department of Health has seized on the latest statistics – showing a slight increase in the number of people seeing an NHS dentist – as proof that services are growing.
Figures published by the Information Centre for health and social care revealed that the number of patients seen by an NHS dentist in the previous two years rose by 99,000 (0.4%) between June and September last year.
They showed just over 27 million adults and children had managed to get an NHS appointment in the 24 months to the end of September – equivalent to 52.9% of the population.
However, the number of patients seen was still 1.1 million (3.9%) fewer than the 28.1 million seen in the two-year period immediately prior to the introduction of the new NHS contract in March 2006, which prompted many practitioners to go private. Then, 55.8% of the population had seen a dentist.
The figures also showed a 2.4% increase in the number of courses of treatment carried out in England between June and September last year (9.1 million) compared with the same quarter the previous year.
Chief dental officer Barry Cockcroft said: ‘This is good news for patients. Access to NHS dentistry is improving following record investment, expanding workforce and a continuing increase in the amount of services being bought by the NHS.
‘As well as an increase in access, this data shows that NHS dentists are delivering more courses of
treatment – an increase of 400,000 (2.4%) in 2008/9 from the same period last year.
‘Because the access data is retrospective, we are only just beginning to see evidence of the growth in NHS dental services that has been going on over the past couple of years.
‘We want to go further to ensure that every person who wants to access an NHS dentist is able to do so and have invested a record £2 billion in dentistry and set up a national access programme to help the NHS deliver this.’
Susie Sanderson, chair of the BDA’s executive board, said: ‘These figures show a small increase in the number of patients able to access NHS care, and this is good news for those who will benefit.
It is important now that all primary care trusts give attention to engaging constructively with dentists to commission their skills and services in the best interests of patients.’
Shadow health minister Mike Penning said: ‘These figures represent a minuscule movement on patient access which runs contrary to the evidence we’re receiving from the public. There remain at least 1.1 million fewer people who have lost access to their NHS dentist under the government’s ludicrous new dental contract.’