'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.

The figures compares with 31% in 2005, representing "no significant improvement", Which? said.

However, the survey also found that people living in the north west of England were less likely than average to have access to NHS dentistry - with just 13% of dental practices taking on any new NHS patients.

People in Yorkshire and Humberside and south central England also fared badly with only 15% and 16% respectively.

The areas with the highest proportion of dental practices taking on NHS patients were in the West Midlands (63%) and London (59%).

Which? health campaigner Frances Blunden said: "As long as the Department of Health continues to allocate money for Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to spend on dentistry on the basis of previous levels of NHS provision in their area, they will perpetuate the stark inequalities in access.

"Where needs are not currently being met by the NHS, people are either putting off having treatment or are being forced to go private. If the government is serious about creating a patient-centred approach to NHS dentistry, then PCT allocations must be related to local needs."

Commenting on the report, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Norman Lamb said: "These results are in stark contrast to the assurances the government has continually given about widening access to dental care and are totally unacceptable.

"In many parts of the country, NHS dentistry is in a state of collapse, with far too few new patients getting access to services.

"Vast over-estimates of the amount of money PCTs would make in dental fees have resulted in budget overspends and a pattern of chaos around the country.

"The government promised access to NHS dentists would dramatically improve, but this certainly has not been the case."


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