There will be ‘queues around the block’ for an NHS dentist unless extra money is pumped in urgently, the Government has been warned.
The British Dental Health Foundation painted a bleak picture for the service unless ministers pressed the accelerator on long-delayed reforms to the dental contract.
The dental charity pinned the blame for ‘current failings’ on the Government rather than dentists as it criticised the investigation by the consumer organisation Which?
The Which? report said would-be patients are being illegally forced to pay a deposit before booking an appointment, with some urged to find a private clinic instead.
But Dr Nigel Carter, the foundation’s chief executive, described the findings as ‘unwarranted and misinformed’.
And he said: ‘The sad reality is that dental practices are still paid for courses of treatment under the NHS and are effectively restricted by a cap on the number of treatments they can perform in per year.
‘By the time the investigation by Which? was carried out, many dental practices would have already reached this limit.
‘It is entirely unjust to place the blame at the door of the dentist for not providing treatment at their own expense.’
Dr Carter pointed out that just 3% of the NHS budget was spent on dentistry, adding: ‘We could be in a position of facing further cuts.
‘The reality is that the Government is going to have to address putting new money into NHS dentistry or we are going to see a repeat of queues around the block if a new NHS surgery manages to open its doors.
‘The present contract hinders dentists from taking on extra NHS patients, which is particularly frustrating, both for the patient and the dental practice, as demand grows.’
NHS dental contract
The criticism is among the strongest yet made of the Government’s failure to deliver a new contract by the end of the last parliament as it promised back in 2010.
But NHS England, on behalf of the Department of Health, rejected the claims of growing problems in NHS dentistry.
A spokeswoman said: ‘Access continues to improve and, in the last 24 months up to March 2015, 30.1 million patients were seen.
‘This means that 1.7 million more patients have been seen compared to 2010.’
Furthermore, in a survey, 246,773 patients well over half those who returned forms ‘answered the question about whether they were successful in getting an NHS dental appointment’.
But the foundation said its dental helpline was ‘constantly approached by patients wishing to find an NHS dentist’.
And it added: ‘The information on NHS Choices has simply not been adequately updated by NHS England since the handover, with the chief dental officer on several occasions saying that this is not a priority.’