Who’s to blame for Bradford’s lack of access to an NHS dentist?

NHS dentistry Bradford

Michael Watson believes it is the professions’ responsibility to offer NHS dentistry to people in Bradford

It is the responsibility of the profession to solve the issue over a lack of access to NHS dentistry in Bradford, Michael Watson says.

While the eyes of the profession were focused on Dental Showcase in London last week, there was a fierce debate at City Hall, Bradford, over problems local people were having accessing NHS dentistry.

This has been a hot topic in the area ever since January this year when local MP, Judith Cummins, challenged the then Prime Minister about the ‘lack of availability of NHS dentists in Bradford’.

In May she received an assurance from the then dentistry minister, Alistair Burt MP, that NHS England had a ‘plan’ to address the problem.

Yet nearly six months later a local Healthwatch report found that 43% of adults and 30% of children did not have an NHS dentist and that many had struggled to find one.


Committee members were told that no dental practice in the district was currently listed on the website NHS Choices as being able to take on adult NHS patients.

Neil Coulter, a senior primary care manager for NHS England said: ‘If a practice does advertise on NHS Choices that they have access, they are very often overwhelmed.’

It appears that the ‘plan’ to run a pilot project to tackle the issue in the area, had been dropped.

As a spokesman for the Local Dental Network remarked: ‘It looks like this problem is being kicked into some very long grass.’

Bradford is not alone; there are reports of difficulties in accessing NHS dentistry across England and many children needing extractions have never previously seen a dentist.

Passing of the parcel

What is to be done?

I find it depressing that all that was reported was passing of the parcel, with no one taking any responsibility.

Blame the contract, blame the government seems to be the mantra.

The fact that stands out to me is that no practices there are taking on new patients.

The GDS regulations say quite clearly that dentists can ‘only refuse to provide services’ to someone if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ for doing so and these should not include their ‘dental condition’ amongst other things.

The default position is to accept new patients, not just see those who have been seen at the practice before.

This puts the ball firmly back in the court of the profession locally.

The Local Dental Network needs to work closely with commissioners in the Area Team to make sure that practices start to open their doors again and not wait for a change in contract.


  1. 1

    Well put Michael, I think you are right in that a certain degree of responsibility needs to be taken by the profession especially in cases where patients are in pain or require urgent attention.

    This isn’t a single failure but a culmination of a series of failures that has led to no-one really caring about access to NHS dentistry. No doubt the case for a corporate to come in like a knight in shining armor to solve this issue will be brewing which is a bit of a shame.


  2. 2

    What Michael fails to acknowledge:

    The current NHS system penalises the dentist for taking on new patients. The majority of new patients have high dental needs requiring multiple extractions/ fillings/ root canal treatments. Why should I take on a new patient when I can get paid the exact same amount for doing a simple filling on one of my routine patients? There is simply no incentive.

    If you want us to do more work/ spend more time – pay us more. Simple.

  3. 3

    This is just one of MANY bad symptoms of a SICK SYSTEM – yes of course it’s Government’s fault as it’s Government’s limitations that have caused the problem !!!

    Access numbers are HMG’s No.1 political goal, at the expense of ALL other goals and that is simply wrong :(

    Thus more toothache patients without an NHS dentist, more children admitted to hospital for rotten teeth and more reliance ipon third-world charities to DO the job Government refuses to do competently 😮

    With no National Media prevention campaign for Dentistry, doing more of the same FAILED UDA system and expecting a different result, is clearly idiotic……..

    It’s time for HMG to admit it has a limited system and thus to focus it upon the greatest needs in society first, not last like now 😮

    Stop blaming the workers, the patents or the weather HMG, start taking responsibility and RESPOND with something genuinely new and innovative in the public interest!

    But please, start by being open and honest enough to admit we have a limited system – with that shared diagnosis, we can then make appropriate treatment plans to improve health, rather than stay stuck in denial and spin…….

    Yours still clearly,


  4. 4

    Of course the NHS dentists are to blame, not only in Bradford but all over the UK for the state of the NHS dentistry.
    I am sure dear Dr Watson would have opened the doors to his practice (if he was still working as a dentist) and would have treated all these patients for a few UDA’s aka “Nectar points” without any selfish thoughts about himself or his staff.
    There are too many of these “old timers” around as so called “leading figures” in UK dentistry getting together every now and then, enlightening us mere mortals with their “expert opinions” and now blaming wet handed real dentists for the lack of NHS services.
    Shame on you

  5. 5

    I completely agree that the UDA based system is largely to blame and yes this needs complete overall but as a profession it seems we are happy to sit quiet and accept 1 UDA when seeing a 2 year old patient, taking seconds to simply count teeth – Whilst at the same time focus on that time we saw a high risk patient and carried out tons of dentistry at a financial loss.

    I don’t think Michael is trying to blame the profession – but he has a point when he says the profession needs to take a certain amount of responsibility and work more closely with commissioners to solve this problem. Ultimately, we have been waiting for contract chance for almost a decade since the HSC reported its findings in 2008 and yet time and time again, absolutely nothing.

    Yes I completely agree that HMG are at fault but at the same time there is little sign that they will be part of the solution.

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