Health minister Ann Keen has welcomed new NHS figures on dental access as ‘great news for patients’.
The figures, from the independent NHS Information Centre (IC), reveal that 28.2 million people saw a dentist in the two years to the end of 2009 – up 18,000 (0.1%) on the two years to the end of March 2006, the period directly before the introduction of new contracting arrangements, which prompted many dentists to abandon the NHS.
The report said that compared with previous figures, covering the 24 months to the end of September 2009, an additional 289,000 (1%) patients had got an appointment.
However, while the total number of people seen by an NHS dentist has risen, the percentage of the population who saw an NHS dentist, at 54.7%, remains lower than the March 2006 baseline of 55.8%.
But Ms Keen welcomed the new, stating: ‘Today’s statistics show that more people visited a dentist in the last two years than at any period in the last 10 years. This is great news for patients who are now seeing the benefits of over £2 billion of investment in improving NHS dental services.
‘There are now nearly 1,200 more dentists working in the NHS than two years ago and practices are opening and expanding all the time across the country.
She added: ‘We have committed to ensuring that every person who wants to see an NHS dentist is able to do so by March 2011 and this data shows that we are in a good position to deliver that.’
Chief dental officer Barry Cockcroft said: ‘We introduced new contracts in 2006 to give the local NHS more control over services and it is fantastic that this is now making a real difference for patients. We also know that the NHS is still increasing the amount of dental services it plans to provide in the next two years so we expect the increase in access to continue.
‘We’re not just looking at increasing the amount of dental services out there. We’re currently piloting recommendations from last year’s review of dental services which will help us to measure also the quality of services and make sure we are reaching those who them the most.’