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Dentists: Data from another era misses out on dramatic fall in access during COVID

27 August 2020


The British Dental Association has warned the latest NHS Dental Statistics is yet to fully confront the unprecedented fall in access driven by the COVID pandemic.


While limited figures have been offered for the period up to 30 June 2020, data focuses on treatment delivered by high street NHS dentists in England in between 31 March 2019 and 31 March 2020. In this period only 58% of children had attended an NHS dentist in the previous 12 months, and 49.6% of adults in the last two years.


Freedom of information requests by the BDA indicate access to the Urgent Dental Care Network - set up to treat emergencies during lockdown when face-to-face care was suspended in practice - amounted to little over 2% of normal levels of activity. Paperwork lodged by dentists with the NHS Business Services Authority indicate just 83,300 courses of treatment were delivered in May 2020, compared to an average of around 3.5 million per month in January to March.


The BDA has warned that England has not yet turned the page on low levels of access, with recent BDA surveys indicating the overwhelming majority of practices are now operating at less than a quarter of their former capacity following the resumption of face-to-face care on 8 June.


According to NHS data 38.4 million courses of treatment were delivered last year, an average of around 9.6 million per quarter. Low levels of capacity mean it will be a major challenge to deliver anything assembling those levels going forward.


Practices are facing significant barriers to expanding capacity, including the need to leave surgeries fallow for 60 minutes after an aerosol generating procedure.  Unless regulations evolve, the BDA has warned tens of millions of patients in England will effectively lose access to dental services.


Dave Cottam, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee said:


“This is data is from another era. Since March patient access has fallen off a cliff, and there is no certainty when or if it can be restored.


“Access was in bad place pre-pandemic. We should lament how few children and adults made it to an NHS dentist last year, but the real question now is how we can even bring the service back to these levels.


“We have practices struggling, and tens of millions of patients need somewhere to go. We need government to work with us to rebuild capacity.”