Far fewer people see an NHS dentist than before a large-scale reorganisation of dentistry service, according to official figures.
Data released by the NHS Information Centre showed that a total of 27.3 million patients — equivalent to 53.7 per cent of the population — saw an NHS dentist in the two years to December 2007. This compares with 28.1 million (55.8 per cent of the population) in the two years to April 2006, when the Government’s new dental contract was implemented.
The contract’s aim was to increase access and simplify dental charges.
The report also showed wide variations across England in who gets access to an NHS dentist, with greater disparities among adults than children. Among adults, the proportion that had seen a dentist in the 24 months up to December 2007 ranged from 38.9 per cent in the South Central Strategic Health Authority area to 58.3 per cent in the North East.
There was also a wide variation in the number of children who have access to dental services, with 73.4 per cent seeing a dentist over the same period in the North East compared with 64.8 per cent in London.
Recent surveys have suggested that scores of patients are being forced to pay for private dental treatment because of a lack of practitioners willing to carry out NHS work.
Current guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) suggest that people should see their dentist either every six months or at intervals of up to two years, as the practice sees fit.
The British Dental Association said the figures offered fresh evidence that ministers had failed to achieve their stated aims with the contract. Peter Ward, its chief executive, says: “They have failed to improve access to care for patients and failed to allow dentists to provide the modern, preventive care they want to deliver. Instead, this contract encourages sporadic, episodic treatment rather than the long-term, continuing relationships that dentists and their patients value.”
Among dentists, 45 per cent said they were not accepting any more NHS patients while nearly three quarters said that they were aware of patients declining treatment because of the cost. However, 93 per cent of patients receiving NHS dentistry said that they were happy with the treatment provided.