NHS dentistry ‘at tipping point’ with warning that patients will ‘pay the price’

Some 3,000 dentists are understood to have moved away from NHS work entirely since March 2020.

Dentist crisis
Dentist crisis

The majority of NHS dental practices in the UK are unable to offer appointments to new adult patients, according to a survey.

The British Dental Association (BDA) and BBC identified 8,533 dental practices across the UK that were believed to hold NHS contracts, and attempts were made to call them all.

Across England, 91% of NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients, 4,933 of 5,416, rising to 97% in the East Midlands, and 98% in the South West, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Of those practices not taking on adults in England, 23% (1,124) said they had an open waiting list, and 16% (791) said the wait time was a year or longer, or were unable to say how long it would be.

Out of 152 local authorities in England, BBC researchers did not successfully reach any practices accepting new adult NHS patients in 56 (37%) local authorities.

In England, 79% of NHS practices were not accepting new child patients – 4,293 of 5,416.

The calls made by the BBC found that across Northern Ireland, 90% of NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients.

For Scotland it was 82% and the figure for Wales was 93%.

Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, said: “NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes.

“We’re seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic. The question now is will ministers step up before it’s too late?

“Nothing we’ve heard from government to date gives us any confidence this service has a future.

“Without real reform and fair funding NHS dentistry will die, and our patients will pay the price.”

The BDA previously said that since March 2020, some 3,000 dentists are understood to have moved away from NHS work entirely.

A BDA poll of 2,200 high street dentists in England found that 45% have reduced their NHS commitment since the start of the pandemic.

The figures, shared with the PA news agency, also found that 75% are “likely” to reduce, or further reduce, their NHS commitment in the next 12 months.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Improving patient access to NHS dental care is a government priority and the new reforms to the dental contract announced last month are an important step, allowing the best performing practices to see more patients, making better use of the range of professionals working in the sector such as dental therapists, hygienists and nurses, while also rewarding dentists more fairly for providing more complex care.

“The NHS commits around £3 billion to dentistry each year and have made an extra £50 million to help bust the Covid backlogs, building on the unprecedented £1.7 billion support we provided during the pandemic, to protect teams and patients by paying dental practices for the work they would normally have carried out if it were not for Covid regulations.”

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