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Healthwatch Report: An access crisis that won't be solved by targets

08 February 2021


The British Dental Association has urged the government to engage with the latest evidence from Healthwatch England, warning the huge barriers facing patients requiring urgent NHS care will only increase unless Ministers change course on targets.


Healthwatch's latest review, which looked at 1,129 people’s experiences of accessing dental care received between October and December 2020, found access to dentistry remained difficult for more than 7 in 10 people, with major problems securing both routine and urgent care. Healthwatch England Chair Sir Robert Francis QC has stressed that "the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the human impact of years of structural issues in NHS dentistry and is now pushing it to crisis point."


Last month the BDA wrote an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock following revelations that a leading chain has already refocused effort on routine check-ups and away from urgent care following the imposition of targets on 1 January. The policy, in place for the current quarter, requires practices to hit 45% of their pre-pandemic activity levels, or face steep financial penalties.


The review comes as over forty MPs from five parties launched a call on the Health Secretary to abandon these targets. The letter, organised by Ealing MP Virendra Sharma, states: "We are concerned that the current situation may lead to practices across the country closing their doors to NHS patients, depriving our constituents of dental care at a time when the effect of reduced access to dental care is still being felt."


Both in the short term and in the year ahead the BDA has said the government’s focus must be on the care of higher needs patients and addressing already unacceptable levels of oral health inequality that are likely to widen as a result of the pandemic.


Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee said:


"Patients with urgent problems need to be at the front of the queue for care. Sadly, government is forcing dentists to prioritise volume over need by imposing inappropriate targets.


"This service is yet to return to anything resembling business as usual. We need Ministers to adopt a pragmatic approach, which keeps practices afloat and ensures those who need dental care the most can secure it."