New research by consumer group Which? suggests that nine out of 10 people* who have tried in the last two years to see an NHS dentist were able to get an appointment with an NHS dentist.
But the report also shows that three million people in England** tried but were unable to get an NHS appointment in the last two years.
A further 4.5 million people*** have stopped trying to find an NHS dentist, having had problems in the past.
The campaigning magazine and website Which? has now developed an online dentist-finder and is calling on consumers who have had problems getting an appointment to try again. It also plans to use the information to pinpoint areas where access is still a problem.
Helen McCallum, Which? director of policy and communications, says: ‘The common belief is that NHS dentists are as rare as hens’ teeth, but it’s not nearly as difficult to find one as most people think.
‘We hope our online dentist finder will help the NHS to pinpoint the trouble spots so that not only can they help the millions of people without a dentist, but so we can start to clear up the misconception that NHS dentists are almost impossible to find.’
She added: ‘If we can identify the problem Trusts, there will be no excuse for the Government not to act, clear up these few areas and, crucially, the perception that if you’re lucky enough to find an NHS dentist, you should hold on for dear life.’
As well as solving remaining access problems, Which? wants greater clarity on what dental services are available on the NHS, steps to improve the public’s trust in dental services and more education about oral health.
* Which? conducted a quantitative survey of 2,631 adults aged 16+ in England using a general public online access panel between 19th January and 4th February 2009. (A total of 3,053 were interviewed, including the other 3 nations). In our survey, 68 per cent of people had tried to make an appointment with an NHS dentist in the past 2 years. Of these, 88 per cent were successful.
** In the survey, 8% of the sample had tried to get an NHS dental appointment in the past two years but were unsuccessful. The three million figure is a simple estimate that multiplies the number of adults aged 16+ in England (from ONS 2007 mid-population estimates) by the percentage from the survey: 41 million x 8%. A 95% confidence interval on this calculation gives a value between 2.8 million and 3.6 million, with a mid point of 3.2 million (rounded to 3 million).
***7% of the sample had gone private the last time they went to the dentist in the past two years with one of their reasons being that they couldn’t find an NHS dentist to take them on but had not tried to get an NHS appointment in the past two years. A further 4% had had not been to the dentist at all in the past two years with one of their reasons being that they couldn’t get an NHS appointment or couldn’t find an NHS dentist in their area, but had also not tried to get an NHS appointment in the past two years. These two groups combined make up 11% of the sample. Using the same calculation as above gives a value between 4 and 5 million, with a midpoint of 4.5 million.