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Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 01:17 GMT
NHS dentistry 'denied to thousands'

Dentist NHS dentists are in short supply

Thousands of people are still failing to get access to an NHS dentist despite a government pledge to make the service available to all, a British Dental Assocation survey has said.

New easy access dental centres are to be set up this year to provide NHS care for about 250,000 people, but the BDA says up to four million people are being denied the health service treatment they want.

So far, the government's efforts to tackle the problems of access to NHS dentistry with 'Phone and Go' centres simply haven't been enough
Dr Anthony Kravitz, British Dental Association
The results are a further blow to the government as it battles accusations of underinvestment in the health service.

The survey suggested that health authorities (HAs) in England and Wales receive an average of about 20,000 phone calls each month about problems finding a dentist.

Two-thirds of HAs reported a shortage of NHS dentists locally.

One-third (32%) of HAs reported an increase in the number of calls they received about the problem since last year.

Two-fifths (41%) reported no change in the situation, while only a quarter (26%) reported a reduction.

Travelling distances were said to be adding to access problems, with more than half (53%) of HAs saying that the distance patients have to travel to obtain NHS care is a problem - showing no improvement since last year.

Of these, about two thirds said public transport was insufficient.

The BDA estimates that about 570 dentists are needed across England and Wales to make a significant difference to NHS access problems - a slight increase on last year's figure.

Government efforts 'not enough'

Dr Anthony Kravitz, Chairman of the BDA's General Dental Services Committee, said: "So far, the government's efforts to tackle the problems of access to NHS dentistry with 'Phone and Go' centres simply haven't been enough.

"The British Dental Association estimates that at least 60m needs to be invested in NHS dentistry every year for the next five years - the government has so far spent comparatively little on these centres."

Dr Kravitz said the problem had stabilised in some areas, but about four million people were still not receiving NHS dental care when they want it.

The BDA questionnaire was sent to all 105 Health Authorities in England and Wales in September 1999, with 64 responses being received.

Pilot schemes

In January 1998 Alan Milburn, who was then health minister, announced that 415,000 was being made available to improve patient access to NHS dental care by developing more flexible services.

He made an extra 600,000 available in May 1998, and in January 1999 health minister John Denham announced a 340,000 for a second wave of pilots.

Fifteen pilots were launched in October 1998 and 24 in October 1999.

On 5 January this year, the government announced a further 34 dental access centres.

In addition to the dental access centres, junior health minister Lord Hunt announced proposals for a third round of pilots to develop NHS services.

New projects include mobile surgeries to provide domiciliary care for house bound people such as residents of care homes, and the appointment of dental therapists who are able to carry out simple dental procedures, and thus free up dentists' time.

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See also:
18 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Tories raise temperature over NHS
17 Jan 00 |  Health
Nurses welcome pay boost
17 May 99 |  Health
Dental health drive launched
13 Jan 99 |  Health
Decline in NHS dentistry takes toll
22 Apr 99 |  Health
Dentists 'in short supply'
30 Jan 99 |  Health
Dentists eyeing private sector

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