Will dental insurance become as prevalent as private medical insurance with the "decline" in NHS dentistry?
Who do you believe? The government when it says it is recruiting more dentists or the dentists who say many more dentists will leave the NHS? Or do newspaper reports of people queueing for 2 days when a new dentist opens, tell the true story?
Health Minister Rosie Winterton recently announced a net increase of 1,100 extra full-time NHS dentists in 2005. Figures show an increase of 700,000 in the number of people registered with an NHS dentist - increasing the total number to 24.4 million.The figures forget to tell us that the population growth was a million or two.
Even the government admits a shortfall of 2,000 dentists has meant many people have found it increasingly difficult to access NHS dentistry. In some parts of the country queues have formed around the block at new NHS surgeries. The desperation to get numbers up is shown by the 513 dentists recruited from other EU countries - including 216 from Poland. Areas with the most serious shortage of NHS dentists had been targeted for recruitment. These include South West Peninsula, North East Yorkshire, East Anglia, Shropshire, and the Isle of Wight.
Arguments between dentists and government about a new contract are not really our concern.But, the effect of a failure to agree is. The British Dental Association has warned that hundreds of dentists in England are considering going totally private or taking early retirement. The argument has tipped the balance for some, who have already stopped NHS work.
There are only about 300 dentists out of England's 20,000 workforce who do solely private work. Most do a mix of private and NHS work - commonly a third private, two thirds NHS.
Nearly a third of dentists in some parts of England have refused to sign NHS contracts In the South West, 29 per cent of dentists have refused to sign up ; in the Thames Valley, 15 per cent; in Hampshire, 18 per cent; in Yorkshire, 23 per cent; and in the West Midlands, 24 per cent.
In south-west London, the figure is 12 per cent; in Manchester, 11 per cent; in Kent, 14 per cent; and in Dorset, 15 per cent. In Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, 23 per cent have not signed up
The move to more private work has been gathering pace for the last 15 years, with images of long queues for NHS dentists becoming increasingly common. Even Tony Blair has had to do a u turn , admitting he is powerless to stop dentists moving into the private sector.Six years ago he promised that within two years everyone would have access to an NHS dentist.
Solving the dental crisis is a bit like trying to empty a bath with a leaking bucket; dentists dropping out from the NHS as fast as, or faster than, they can be trained or recruited from overseas. It would be great if we could all get free NHS dentistry when and where we wanted it. In reality, it is going to be pot luck whether or not you can get free treatment locally , so dental insurance may be the only solution.