NHS dental care for vulnerable patients across the UK is suffering as financial pressures start to bite, research by the British Dental Association (BDA) has found.
This is leaving dentists worried that they are unable to sustain the services they provide to patients against a tide of decline and neglect.
Two-thirds of respondents to the survey, which canvassed workforce representatives in the services that concentrate on treating special care patient groups, reported they are increasingly anxious as dental posts have been lost or not replaced because of reorganisations or budget cuts. Almost the same number of those surveyed said that equipment is not being replaced.
Concerns about the effect on patients were clear. Eighty-three per cent of those questioned felt patients were having to wait longer for treatment, while 72% said the scope of services being provided was being reduced and 58 per cent believed the quality of services was suffering.
The BDA has written to the Department of Health highlighting the concerns raised by the survey and calling for them to emphasise to Primary Care Trusts that cuts to services are not acceptable.
Dr Peter Bateman, chair of the BDA’s Salaried Dentists Committee, said: ‘This survey confirms fears that government promises to protect frontline patient care are not being delivered on by PCTs.
‘It paints a picture of vacancies not being filled, equipment not being replaced and increased waiting times for patients.
‘We understand that economic circumstances mean that tough choices must be made about the use of a finite pot of money, and allowing services for the vulnerable minority to falter may look like an easy option because these individuals are often less able to speak up for themselves, but salaried primary care dentists will not tolerate misguided decisions to put money before care for these patients.
‘That’s why we’re highlighting these problems now and demanding urgent action. Primary Care Trusts must be reminded of the government’s promise to protect frontline care and play their part in ensuring it is kept.
‘If they fail to do so, our fear is that services will simply disintegrate, and by the time the National Commissioning Board assumes its responsibilities, primary salaried dental care will be a pale shadow of the service it is now.’