News

09.08.2022

BBC investigation on NHS dentistry – our response

A new investigation from BBC News and the British Dental Association has found nine in 10 NHS dental practices across the UK are not accepting new adult patients for treatment under the health service.
Read our response.

As part of the investigation, BBC News contacted nearly 7,000 NHS practices – believed to be almost all those offering general treatment to the public.

It also heard from people across the UK who could not afford private fees and said NHS dentists were crucial to getting care. However, the lack of NHS appointments has led people to drive hundreds of miles in search of treatment, pull out their own teeth without anaesthesia, resort to making their own improvised dentures and restrict their long-term diets to little more than soup.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier today, Louise Ansari, our national director said: “The research really does confirm and amplify what we’ve been saying for a couple of years and the situation is pretty dire.

“So many people can’t get an NHS dentist appointment, they’re in pain, they’re anxious, some people can’t eat or speak properly.

She added: “And sadly, indeed, it’s not unusual for us to hear stories of DIY dentistry, things like making teeth out of resin and sticking them in to their gums with superglue, which is an absolute desperate situation for somebody to be in.”

You can listen to the full interview here (at one hour and nine minutes into the programme).

Full transcript of the interview

Today: If you can’t find a dentist, what do you do? People have been travelling hundreds of miles in search of treatment, reduced to pulling out their own teeth without aesthetic and even making their own dentures.

Today: A BBC investigation which contacted almost 7,000 dental practices found that 9 in 10 aren’t accepting NHS patients and 8 in 10 of the practices aren’t taking on children.

Today: The Department of Health has said that it made an extra £50 million available to bust the Covid backlogs and that improving NHS access was a priority.

Today: We’re joined now by Louise Ansari, who’s National Director of Healthwatch England, that’s a committee of the Care Quality Commission, the watchdog which champions the users of health and social care. Good morning.

Louise Ansari: Good morning.

Today: What’s your response to the BBC survey?

LA: I think your research really does confirm and amplify what we’ve been saying for a couple of years. And the situation is pretty dire isn’t it? Many people can’t get an NHS dentist appointment, they’re living in pain, they’re anxious.

LA: Some people can’t eat or speak properly, and sadly indeed it’s not unusual for us to hear stories of DIY dentistry as you’ve mentioned, making teeth out of resin and sticking them into their gums with super glue, which is an absolute desperate situation for somebody to be in.

Today: Have you heard these stories too of people attempting to pull out their own teeth?

LA: Yes, absolutely. Unfortunately a number of those. I mean, for the majority of people, those are extreme cases of course, and for the majority of people it’s just a real inconvenience I guess not to be able to get an NHS dentist appointment.

There’s still huge pressure on the current model for NHS dentistry. NHS England and the Department of Health do seem to be alive to the problem. They’ve changed the dental contract for the first time in 16 years. But so many people feel pressured into paying for private care, and often they can’t afford it.

Today: And why is there this shortage do you think?

LA: So, access to NHS dentistry has been a problem for decades. The number of people, the number of areas that have been reporting problems to us have been increasing since around 2016 onwards. And then of course during the pandemic there was a real explosion of this issue. Lots of dentists were closed. People weren’t able to get check-ups. Smaller problems with dental health became bigger problems.

But NHS dentistry has not really been invested in in the way it should have been in the last couple of decades.

Today: But has Covid been an issue as well?

LA: Yes, absolutely. As I say, lots of dentists were closed. People found it very hard to get appointments. It has been a massive issue ever since NHS dentistry and subsidized dentistry was kind of started.

We looked at around about 8,000 bits of feedback each year from the public. The vast majority of that feedback unfortunately is negative about NHS dentistry. So there is a national problem here that needs to be solved.

Today: And presumably, this must be having a knock on effect on other areas of the NHS like A&E?

LA: Yeah, I don’t think it’s the case that pressures in A&E are all down to dental problems, but we do absolutely hear of some people seeking emergency help because they can’t find a dentist. And of course if people don’t have check-ups, the NHS miss signs of things like oral cancer, so it can affect the system in all sorts of ways.

LA: I mean one of the problems is not just physical or mental health, it’s people’s finances. And there is a huge gap opening up here – a two tier system. Our studies show that if you’re well off, you’re about six times more likely to be able to pay for private dental care if you can’t find a NHS dental compared to people who are low paid.

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