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How can the new Conservative government make changes to promote better access to NHS dentistry?

  • A blog regarding why patients are often unable to get appointments, whilst many dental practices still have unfilled patient vacancies and how this could be changed by the new government.

    By Stephanie Cockburn

Have you ever had difficulty securing a dental appointment? According to data analysed by the British Dental Association (BDA), nearly 1 in 10 adults in England tried, and failed, to access a dental appointment in the last two years.

Over recent years, the number of people being able to gain access to NHS dental care has declined significantly. Statistics show that, since 2010, there has been a static governmental budget on NHS spending within dental practices. As a result, dentists have been forced to turn patients away due to funding, rather than any lack of capacity to treat them. In 2018, a national survey showed that 75% of NHS practice owners in England were unable to fill patient vacancies .

What problems do dental practices face when trying to fill patient vacancies?

1. Recruitment crisis

Recruitment and retention of NHS dental professionals in England is under threat because of the pressure of a target-driven NHS dentistry system. A recent BDA survey of dentists suggested that the majority of them were planning on leaving the NHS service or scaling down their commitment to the system in the next 5 years.

2. Flawed NHS contract

Currently the dental contract between the NHS and the dental profession (as drawn up by the government) is target based and spaces for NHS treatment are limited within practices. There has been criticism that this system rewards dentists for meeting targets as opposed to promoting better access to NHS treatment for patients. BDA campaigns for the contract to be reformed to focus on maintaining patient oral hygiene and preventing dental disease.

3. Budget cuts and increase in public charges

Whilst other areas of the NHS are seeing an increase in government investment and spending, it appears that dentistry has been put at the bottom of the list.

Instead, the cost of NHS dental treatment for the public has risen by around 30% in the last decade. These ever increasing charges are not sustainable for those who desperately need dental care but cannot afford it.

How can we call for changes and better access to NHS dentistry?

The BDA is running a campaign called “The Missing Piece” and their manifesto is to call for:-

  • A valued workforce;
  • Putting preventative care first; and
  • Removal of barriers to NHS care.

In December 2019, an open letter was sent to Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, urging the government to bring NHS dentistry higher up the list when allocating the NHS budget and resources.

The above manifesto will help patients gain access to NHS care. Furthermore, better communication and preventative care will be promoted rather than patients facing last resort treatment and in turn potential negligence on the part of strained NHS dentists.


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