People who can’t get access to an NHS dentist in England are being forced to go without treatment or even pull out their own teeth, according to a new survey.
The survey of 5,212 patients found that 20% of respondents had refused treatment because of high cost and 6% had treated themselves at some point. About a quarter said they go private, most of them confirming the reason for this was that they could not get NHS treatment locally.
The survey was conducted by the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, an NHS feedback body.
Of 750 dentists polled, 84% said the new contract had failed to improve access to NHS services for patients. Almost half of the dentists surveyed are not accepting any more NHS patients.
Half of the patients questioned, whether NHS or private, were confused about the new dental charges, with some saying they had taken out loans to cover the cost of treatment.
Included in the 6% who said they had treated themselves because they were unable to get professional treatment, was a Lancashire patient who said they had removed 14 of their own teeth with pliers and others who said they had used glue to fix broken crowns.
Sharon Grant, chairwoman of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, said: ‘These findings indicate that the NHS dental system is letting many patients down very badly. It appears many are being forced to go private because they don’t want to lose their current trusted and respected dentist or because they just can’t find a local NHS dentist.
‘Where NHS dental services are available, people are happy with the quality of treatment provided but many find the NHS fee system confusing and expensive, with some patients taking out loans to pay for treatment or more worryingly taking matters into their own hands.
‘This is an uncomfortable read for all of us, and poses serious questions to politicians from patients. There are real policy issues here that have been fudged for too long. Is NHS dentistry just for those who can’t afford anything else – or can it revert to a universal, affordable, service to which people have entitlement as citizens and tax-payers? At the moment there is a massive gap between what’s on the NHS dentistry tin and what’s in it.’
Susie Sanderson, chair of the British Dental Association’s Executive Board, said: ‘The picture it paints, of patients unable to access care, dentists struggling with the target-driven system and anxieties about the new charging system, is an all-too-familiar one.
‘The new contract has done nothing to improve access for patients and failed to allow dentists to deliver the kind of modern, preventive treatment they want to give.’
But a Department of Health spokesperson said 21,000 dentists were providing NHS services and the survey reflected a very narrow view of NHS dentistry.
‘Under the new system, if a dentist leaves the NHS, the local PCT will re-invest the funding to bring in new dentists,’ she said.
‘Patient charges are now easier to understand – with just three bands of treatment instead of 400 differently priced items. There is also a reduction in the highest charges from £389 to £194.’