Access to NHS dentistry is worrying MPs

NHSpictureMichael Watson says lack of access to NHS services, including dentistry, is always a trigger for MPs to complain.

Before they went off on their summer hols, some MPs were beginning to raise concerns about difficulties some constituents were finding in accessing NHS dentistry.

Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South, is lobbying the government to demand improvements to local services, which have been labelled a ‘mismatch of patient need and actual provision’ by Healthwatch Bradford and District.

‘Extremely worried’

The Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw said he is ‘extremely worried’ and concerned about the impact the waiting list is having on peoples’ dental health care.

For two years from 2007 to 2009 Bradshaw was a health minister, although not with responsibility for dentistry. He was pushing it a bit when he said: ‘This was a problem that the last Labour government resolved. But we are now going backwards with hundreds of local people unable to get a dentist.’

A constituent not being able to make an appointment to see a dentist under the NHS is an issue that will guarantee a letter to the health secretary from the MP.

The answer they get is often a quote from the latest NHS survey showing that 95% of patients who tried to get an appointment with a dentist were successful and 85% rated their visit as ‘positive’.

When Judith Cummins asked the question in the House before the recess, she was told that generally there are not difficulties in finding dentists ‘to work on services where these are commissioned.’

In her constituency of Bradford she was told that the local NHS ‘is undertaking a detailed project to understand the ongoing access issues in order to identify a solution.’


The editor of the Bradford Telegraph & Argus wrote in a leader: ‘It’s appalling in this day and age that there are people who cannot get access to a dentist without having to go privately.’

He added: ‘It’s amazing, given the level of demand, that more people aren’t establishing themselves in NHS practices.’

Someone should tell him that since 2006 dentists have been unable to set themselves up unless the service is commissioned, so he is wrong to blame it on low profit margins for NHS work, as he did.

In Exeter the local NHS are ‘undertaking a validation of the existing waiting list’ to see if those patients on it still want to see a dentist. The waiting list to see an NHS dentist has also lengthened in Mid and East Devon.

There are waiting lists because as one dentist said ‘our NHS book is full and we physically can’t take any more patients on.’

But NHS lists were abolished in 2006, when new regulations were introduced, which say: ‘The contractor shall only refuse to provide services under the contract to a person if it has reasonable grounds for doing so.’

Is having a ‘full NHS book’ reasonable grounds? Shouldn’t the local NHS be asking this question?

Lack of access to NHS services, including dentistry, is always a trigger for MPs to complain.

Having been quiet for some years, it seems to be raising its head again.

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