Dental access comes under spotlight

Key figures in dentistry put dental access under the spotlight recently.

An international panel of speakers addressed the issue of access to dental services at a symposium organised by the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK).

More than 60 key figures in dentistry listened to a range of definitions of ‘access’ – and so too the challenges that arise.

Benedict Rumbold, of the Nuffield Trust, argued that ‘equal access is about equal opportunity, not equal utilisation’, while Maria Goddard, director of the Centre for Health Economics at York University contended that “utilisation is usually the proxy for access, but does it capture quality?

More access does not necessarily result in better access’.Paul Batchelor, honorary senior lecturer in dental public health at UCL and course director of the FGDP(UK)’s Diploma in Dental Health Services Leadership and Management, defined access as ‘the opportunity to use a service if the individual feels it appropriate’.

Evidence was presented of the progress made towards improving access to dentistry.
Mike Warburton, formerly the national director for GP access at the Department of Health (DH), argued that work by the DH had greatly improved access.

However, he stated concerns around the effective management of dental contracts by primary care trusts in the past and described a number of DH initiatives to support PCTs in delivering dental access more effectively.

He heralded achievements in improving access over the last year or so and quoted results from a recent GP survey showing that 96% of patients who tried to get an NHS dental appointment in the last six months were able to do so.

Paul Batchelor asserted that no single measure will ensure access and that the biggest barrier is cost, stating that “if you want to increase attendance, offer access as a free entitlement through lifelong registration”.

In other presentations, Rick Curro, from the PEARL Dental Network in New York presented the access challenges faced within the US health system, while Jon Crail of the Phrisk Digital Agency presented on the impact of socio-economic factors on the demand for dental services.

Finally, Mike Smith of the Patients Association presented the patients’ perspective on access, making a plea for greater levels of preventive care to be provided.

The evcent was staged at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

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