A pair of surveys questioning more than 3,000 dentists across the UK revealed that two-thirds of them now plan to go private – and a whopping 90% think Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government is to blame
Dentists warn that the Tories’ refusal to reform NHS dentistry is damaging the UK’s health.
Two large surveys questioning 3,500 of the nation’s dental workers reveal the deterioration of the NHS service as two thirds of dentists plan to do more private work instead. Dentists report patients using pliers to extract, use of superglue on broken crowns, gum for temp fillings, even homemade dentures.
The Mirror is campaigning for a return to access to an NHS dentist for all and our online petition launched this week hit 100,000 signatures on Friday. The 2024 Dentistry Census of 3,000 dentists, dental nurses and oral hygienists found 90% believe that failure to change the flawed NHS payment contract is harming the health of the nation.
It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week unveiled his NHS dentistry “rescue plan” which did nothing to reform the contract or reverse a decade of real terms funding cuts. The “flawed” NHS contract pays dentists the same amount for three fillings as 20 and caps the number of patients they are paid to treat.
Sign our petition HERE to save NHS dentistry and make it fit for the 21st century
A separate survey of 500 dentists by the British Dental Association, carried out for the Mirror, found that 87% agree people they see are losing teeth that could be saved if they had access to regular NHS check-ups. Some 84% of dentists polled said patients are now presenting requiring more extensive and time consuming treatment.
BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: “NHS dentists are trained to prevent disease but have no chance to put those principles into practice. We’ve lost the chance to nip problems in the bud. The result is patients facing more pain and more treatment when appointments are like gold dust. Decades of progress in oral heath are going into reverse. Nothing we’ve seen from Government will change that.”
Dentists are increasingly give up on the NHS contract and going private. NHS data has indicated 83% of surgeries now refuse to accept adults as patients seeking NHS care. Just over 70% do not accept under-18s. The 2024 Dentistry Census states it is “the most comprehensive survey of dentistry in the UK ever seen”.
It found 61% of NHS dentists expect to reduce the number of NHS patients they treat in the next two years. Some 75% of clinicians working in the NHS said they “do not feel the current system provides a good service for patients”.
Guy Hiscott, editor of industry magazine Dentistry, which carried out the census, said: “These plans sound effective at first glance but they fall far short of what’s needed to make any sort of meaningful difference for patients. What the system needs is a complete overhaul, not a series of half measures.
“We know that two thirds of NHS dentists are planning on reducing their work in the health ser-vice in the next two years. And we know why: they’ve lost faith in a system that’s fundamentally flawed. Unless these plans are followed up by a new dental contract with prevention and sustainable oral health at its core, nothing is going to improve for patients or practices.”
Worryingly the BDA survey showed 63% of dentists report patients turning down recommended care because of the rising cost of patient fees. Only 15% reported they were not seeing this, while the rest said the question was not applicable. The £3 billion NHS dentistry budget has become increasingly made up of patient charges over the last decade after the Government repeated above-inflation fee rises for everything from check-ups to dentures.
A check up now costs £25.80, up from £16.50, and a filling £70.70, up from £45.60. The new plan includes a New Patient Premium for dentists to receive a bonus of between £15 and £50 for treating someone who has not had a check up for two years. The minimum amount paid to dentists for NHS treatments will also rise from £23 to £28.
However only 900 of the 8,000 practices in England are not currently getting a £28 minimum so a minority of practices will benefit from the uplift. Crucially, it is unclear whether the NHS dentistry budget will be increased. It has flatlined at around £3 billion for the last decade which after inflation has meant a real terms cut of around £1 billion.
Save NHS Dentistry petition
Sign our petition to save NHS dentistry and make it fit for the 21st century
Our 3 demands
Everyone should have access to an NHS dentist
More than 12 million people were unable to access NHS dental care last year – more than 1 in 4 adults in England. At the same time 90% of dental practices are no longer accepting new NHS adult patients. Data from the House of Commons Library showed 40% of children didn’t have their recommended annual check-up last year.
Restore funding for dental services and recruit more NHS dentists
The UK spends the smallest proportion of its heath budget on dental care of any European nation. Government spending on dental services in England was cut by a quarter in real terms between 2010 and 2020. The number of NHS dentists is down by more than 500 to 24,151 since the pandemic.
Change the contracts
A Parliamentary report by the Health Select Committee has branded the current NHS dentists’ contracts as “not fit for purpose” and described the state of the service as “unacceptable in the 21st century”. The system effectively sets quotas on the maximum number of NHS patients a dentist can see as it caps the number of procedures they can perform each year. Dentists also get paid the same for delivering three or 20 fillings, often leaving them out of pocket. The system should be changed so it enables dentists to treat on the basis of patient need.
Have you had to resort to drastic measures because you couldn’t access an NHS dentist? Are you a parent struggling to get an appointment for a child? Email [email protected] or call 0800 282591
Rishi Sunak was grilled on the lack of NHS dental care during an appearance on BBC Radio Devon. The Prime Minister, who is on a visit to the South West, acknowledged it would be an “important” area in the next general election.
Mr Sunak dismissed criticism of his dental plan from dentists, telling the station: “Everyone will have their views, I’m confident that it will make a difference. It’s a significant amount of money. It’s two-and-a-half million appointments, which will take us back to pre-Covid levels.”