Stark decline in access to NHS dental care

FOUR out of five people report struggling to access NHS dental care, including emergency treatment, according to analysis of feedback to Healthwatch.

Healthwatch reports that public feedback on NHS dental care has risen five-fold over the last 18 months and positive sentiment, which was around 30 per cent before the COVID-19 pandemic, is down to its lowest ever level at just two per cent.

It has found that some dental practices have either shut down or have gone fully private and some dentists have used up their total NHS capacity and are asking people for private fees instead. Many people also find it hard to get up-to-date information about which practices are taking on new NHS patients and are contacting Healthwatch looking for local information.

Healthwatch cites other data showing the challenges in NHS dental care. The NHS delivered 69 per cent fewer courses of treatment in 2020-21 compared with the previous year, according to the NHS Dental Statistics for England Annual Report. Analysis of NHS Digital Data found that the number of child patients seen has nearly halved, down 44 per cent in 2021 compared to two years earlier.

Commenting on the findings, Healthwatch chair, Sir Robert Francis QC, said: “The big worry about the shortage of NHS appointments leading people to private care is that it further deepens the health inequalities that COVID-19 has starkly highlighted.

“We won’t build back a fairer service until access to NHS dentistry is equal and inclusive for everyone.

“Today, dentistry remains the only part of the NHS that receives a lower budget in cash terms than in 2010. The ongoing neglect of NHS dentistry will have repercussions for the life-long health of current and future generations. Lack of access to dental care, particularly for children, is a hugely worrying issue that the NHS must tackle immediately.”

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