Dental practises accused of failing patients

Almost half of NHS dental practises in England could not offer urgent NHS appointments to unregistered patients, a consumer survey has found.

Almost half (49%) of those practises visited by consumer magazine Which? could not give appointments to unregistered patients, according to their survey.

Which? found that only 8% of dental practises could offer an emergency NHS appointment within 24 hours, while one in ten offered an appointment, but not within 24 hours. 28% of practises visited could only offer a private appointment, the consumer watchdog claimed.

Which? said that the government urgently needed to tackle the problem of ensuring that patients can receive urgent dental treatment when they need it.

The consumer watchdog highlighted the case of a woman who was seven-months pregnant and had been suffering from severe toothache for a week. Unable to gain an appointment with several local dentists, she was eventually informed by NHS Direct that the nearest dentist who could register her was 58 miles away. Which? said that the woman eventually ended up in a hospital A&E department, where she was diagnosed with a tooth infection, which, if left untreated, could have harmed both her and her unborn baby.

Which? is now calling for new contract arrangements between dentists and the NHS; NHS dental charges to be set at affordable levels; and sustained investment in NHS dentistry. The consumer watchdog also said that money to be spent on NHS dentistry should be ring-fenced for frontline dental services.

Frances Blunden, principal health policy adviser for Which? said: “At long last there is recognition that urgent action is needed to ensure dentistry remains an integral part of the NHS. However, Which? has real concerns that there hasn’t been enough recognition of the problems and therefore the degree of action needed. Unless these issues are tackled properly, there’s a real danger that people up and down the country will be left in pain or their general health seriously threatened.”

Commenting on the report, Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Access to NHS dentistry has collapsed and not just because of the lack of dentists. Labour have failed to establish a contract, which makes it worthwhile for a majority of dentists to offer NHS dentistry.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Steve Webb also criticised the government on the issue. He said: “This report provides further damning evidence of Labour’s failure to guarantee nationwide access to NHS dentistry.

“Less than half the adults in England and Wales are currently registered with an NHS dentist and this number has fallen significantly under this government.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent NHS dentistry becoming a thing of the past.”


Related UK National News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

26 March 2007
'Postcode lottery' remains in NHS dental care
There are "huge regional variations" in NHS dental care in England, consumer organisation Which? has warned in new research. The survey of 466 dentistry practices - which comes a year after the start of new NHS dentists' contract in England - found that just over a third (36%) are taking on any new NHS patients.
25 November 2003
£15m earmarked for access to NHS dentistry
Around £15 million has been earmarked for NHS dentistry to provide easier access for patients, the government has announced today. Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) will decide how the funds can best be targeted with their Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and it is planned that these allocations are made by 31 December this year.
23 September 2004
NHS recruitment drive to focus on over 50s
A new nationwide drive to recruit NHS staff, which will focus for the first time on the over 50s, has been was launched today. NHS Job Shop Day comprises of 220 events taking place around the country on or around 23 September. Around 150 Jobcentres across England will also be holding special NHS events on 23 September as part of NHS Job Shop Day.
24 March 2011
Patients Getting Improved NHS Care
A round-up of NHS quality and financial performance between October and December 2010 has been published by the Department of Health today.
26 May 2004
Majority of dentists opposed to contract proposals: survey
Nearly 60% of high street dentists will either reduce their NHS commitment or quit the NHS altogether in protest at government proposals, according to new research from the British Dental Association (BDA).