Dental inequality in the UK


  Posted by: manpreet.boora      16th October 2017

Comment from student dentist Charlotte Gentry…
Earlier this month it was reported in the press that many people are struggling to find an NHS dentist. The BBC spoke to a couple who said they could not find an NHS dentist so “pulled their own teeth out”. This is shocking, and I think it’s incredibly sad that so many people are struggling to access NHS dental care. The BDA commented, saying that there was an “emerging crisis” in England with regards to dental care.
I lived in Kent before I moved to Birmingham, and worked in an NHS dental practice. It was no secret that where I was from, scarcely any dentists were taking on new NHS patients. If you were lucky enough to find a practice that was, the waiting list was months long. In fact, for a while, we were the only practice taking on new patients in the local area. Then I moved to Birmingham and worked in a couple of practices here before starting university. The books were half empty! If you had an emergency and wasn’t registered; we could get you registered, with an NHS appointment on the day. I couldn’t believe it and it left me wondering how there could be such inequalities between different parts of the country. It became clear that living in smaller, more isolated areas definitely hindered your ability to find an NHS dentist. I feel there needs to be more of an incentive to set up NHS dental practices in more remote areas of the country.
The press portrays this inequality as the dentists’ fault and we come across as the bad guys. However, it is largely down to the poor NHS dental system we have. Public Council funding is simply not covering the costs of the dental treatment needed by society. I also believe the 2006 contract has a large part to play. Practices are given a budget and targets and if they don’t stick to them are penalised. Trying to balance running a profitable business and providing high-quality care to everyone with only public funding is a virtually impossible task and it is beginning to show. A new contract, providing it completely overhauls the old, might help, but I don’t think anyone really knows the answer. I think the question is, is a publically funded dental service sustainable? Right now, it isn’t working and something huge needs to be done to change the provision of dental services in the UK.
Having said all of this, how much can we blame the service and funding? NHS England stated that 95 per cent of patients needing an appointment got one. However, this figure covers patients who are registered and doesn’t take into account those who are not. Why aren’t these patients registered, though? I wonder whether some of these patients are those who did have an NHS dentist, failed to attend frequently and thus were taken off the books. I also witnessed so many patients not attending their first appointment after being on a waiting list for months! Is it then fair to say they have been denied access when they sacrificed their registration themselves? This is another discussion, as many patients have their genuine reasons for not attending. It is, however, a factor that needs to be considered.
I am unsure whether a publicly-funded dental service is sustainable. There are clearly huge flaws in the current system. Perhaps with changes being made in the near future, we may see an improvement in access to dental care and inequalities being reduced. However, this is all ‘maybes’ – and when there is an “emerging crisis” we can’t afford maybes; a solution needs to be found.

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