In 2016, the NHS carried out 39 million dental treatments in England. NHS England reported that 95% of those people who were attempting to gain an appointment with an NHS dentist were able to make the necessary arrangements. However, in an analysis recently carried out by the BBC, a different conclusion could be drawn regarding the ease with which most people are able to access their dentist. The analysis found that, of the 2500 dental practices detailed on the NHS website, around half were not currently able to accept new adult patients on an NHS basis. 40% were not in the position to accept new child patients on the NHS.
The BBC reported on the cost of this in real terms. They interviewed two prospective patients from West Yorkshire who had been desperately trying to access treatment from an NHS dentist. They described how they had been seeking a dentist to take them on for four years, and how each time they made contact they were referred to a waiting list of two years. One described how, due to the discomfort and pain she experienced and the lack of NHS care, she had pulled out her own teeth to end her misery.
So, what are the reasons for this? Over the last ten years, the number of dentists carrying out work on the NHS has increased by 20%, so surely there should be more options for care, rather than less? In addition, £3 billion a year is spent on providing NHS dental care. However, with the increase in population that has occurred at the same time, NHS dentists are spread thinly. The current NHS dental system in the UK is underfunded, and the £3 billion provided does not cover costs. Coupled with the fact that the majority of dentists in the UK are self-employed, and the shortfall is amplified: funding doesn’t often cover the cost of overheads such as equipment and support staffing and capacity to provide NHS services is reduced.
CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE recently spoke about these findings, commenting that people having to take their dental care into their own hands was: ‘incredibly disturbing and something which should not be happening in the modern world.’ Dr Carter continued to urge people to treat their dental services with a ‘prevention is better than cure’ attitude, and attend their regular check-ups over a longer period of time, rather than only seek treatment when something is very wrong. This may help to prevent the inaccessibility of treatment at times that matter, and to reduce the severity of difficulties experienced.
For more information about NHS dental services, costs, and the exemptions that may apply please give us a call at Ock Street on: 01235 533777 or alternatively contact the Oral Health Foundation Dental Helpline on 01788 539780.