19/05/2005

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.”

(KMcA/SP)




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