The Department of Health must start to think beyond simple numerical measures of access to dentistry if it is serious about reducing the oral health inequalities of England’s population.
That’s according to the British Dental Association (BDA) as the latest figures published by the NHS Information Centre reveal a small recovery in the number of people able to access NHS dental care.
According to the statistics 27.3 million people in England accessed an NHS dentist in the 24 months ending 31 December 2008 compared to 27.0 million in the 24 months ending 30 September 2008. In the 24 months prior to the introduction of the new dental contract in April 2006, 28.1 million patients were seen.
Chief dental officer, Barry Cockcroft said: ‘Today’s data shows that over the last two quarters of 2008, the number of patients accessing an NHS dentist in a two-year period increased by nearly 340,000.
‘Given the increase in the amount of NHS dentistry now being commissioned by PCTs, we are confident that the NHS will continue to build on this improvement.
‘It also shows that NHS dentists are providing more services for patients, an increase of 800,000 (3.1%) courses of treatment in 2008/09 from the same period last year.
He added: ‘We want 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.’
But John Milne, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: ‘Although these figures mean that there are still many people who wish to access a dentist but cannot do so, the increased number of people who can is good news.
‘As well as maintaining this improvement, it is also important that the Department of Health gets to grips with the problems facing dentists as they seek to provide care and work with them to embrace Lord Darzi’s vision and help them to deliver high quality care.
‘The conclusions of the current inquiry into dental services being led by Professor Jimmy Steele, which are expected in the summer, will need to be the subject of consultation with the profession and any reforms arising from them will need to be properly piloted before they are implemented.’