Patients failing to attend NHS dental appointments in England could be denying significant numbers of other people the chance to access care, according to a survey by the British Dental Association (BDA).
The survey suggests that committed NHS dentists in England each lose the equivalent of almost two weeks a year because patients fail to turn up for appointments.
The BDA believes that the research highlights a problem of a significant scale and that the option to charge a fee for missed appointments, abolished as part of the widely criticised 2006 reforms to dentistry, should be reinstated.
If the experiences of the dentists surveyed by the BDA reflect those of predominantly NHS dental practices across England, the research would indicate more than 3.5 million dental appointments were missed last year.
Responses to the BDA research suggest that the problem is more prevalent among new patients than those who have been visiting a practice for many years.
They also suggest that the problem has become more acute since dental practices’ ability to charge patients for missed appointments was abolished in 2006.
John Milne, chair of the BDA’s general dental practice committee, says: ‘Sometimes there are genuine reasons why it’s just not possible for a patient to keep an appointment with their dentist and everybody understands that, but the results of this research suggest that the scale of this problem is significant.
‘Dental surgeries use letters, telephone calls and even text messages to remind patients of forthcoming appointments, so it’s really disappointing to see that so many people appear prepared to deny others access to care by failing to show up.
‘This not only wastes dentists’ time, but also taxpayers’ money. With many people still failing to secure the dental appointments they want, and the public purse under pressure, that’s simply unacceptable. This problem needs to be tackled and the BDA believes that the Government should consider reintroducing a fee for patients who miss appointments to deter them from doing so.”