Dental deserts are on the rise, but we have warned that the true scale of the exodus from the NHS is going untracked in official figures.
New research commissioned by the Liberal Democrats shows why so many people are struggling to get an appointment, with some areas now having over 3,000 people for every NHS dentist available. 65 of 104 local areas in England have seen the number of people per dentist rise since 2019, and the Party are rightly calling for a rescue plan to stop people resorting to DIY dentistry.
But the reality is sadly far worse. The government has never attempted to collect data on how much NHS work dentists perform, rendering official figures a work of fiction. We looked at the statistics on Units of Dental Activity (UDA) delivery for every NHS performer in England, and over 500 dentists are now delivering a single UDA a year - the equivalent of a solitary NHS check-up. Fewer performed higher volumes of NHS dentistry last year than before COVID struck, with the proportion doing over 5000 UDAs falling by more than half.
We have repeatedly refuted the Prime Ministers claims that there are 500 ‘new’ dentists practising in the NHS following recent tweaks to the NHS dental contract. Our polls show over half of dentists in England (50.3%) report having reduced their NHS commitment since the start of the pandemic – by 27% on average. Numbers are set to rise, but all this movement is going unseen in official data.
Our recent analysis also indicates unmet need for dentistry in 2022 stood at over 11 million people, or almost one in four of England's adult population. We warned the Health and Social Care Committee that government was just "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while the service slowly slips into the sea".
“The Prime Minister keeps boasting of 500 ‘new’ dentists in the NHS – but in fact we have 500 doing just a single check-up a year,” says Chair Eddie Crouch.
“We need a reality check from government, together with honesty, ambition and investment.”
We continue to call for urgent and fundamental reform of the NHS dental contract underpinned by sustainable investment to allow our patients to access treatment when they need it.