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Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 02:54 GMT 03:54 UK


Dentists 'in short supply'

Recruitment problems are threatening NHS dentistry

Patients are finding it increasingly hard to obtain access to a National Health Service (NHS) dentist, a survey has found.

The BBC's Bob Sinkinson reports
Health authorities are advertising abroad in an attempt to recruit sufficient dentists to fill the gap left by UK practitioners who are opting to work in the private sector.

Many UK dentists say they cannot give NHS patients good care for the money the government pays.

The British Dental Association (BDA) has predicted that the UK will lose the equivalent of 3,000 dentists over the next 40 years.

Dr Anthony Kravitz from the British Dental Association
The association has carried out a survey that suggests the exodus is already starting to take effect.

Half the health authorities in England and Wales who responded to the BDA survey reported an increase in the number of calls received by the public about problems getting to see an NHS dentist.

Distances a 'problem'

The health authorities also said there was a shortage of dentists in their area.

The BDA is calling on the government to invest £50m per annum over five years into dental practices to improve access to NHS dental care.

Health authorities surveyed received more than 55,000 calls during the three-month period surveyed.

Based on these responses, the BDA estimates 80,000 calls were made about access problems.

Bill Allen of the BDA: "It's more difficult when you move"
Many of the health authorities said that travelling distances were making access problems worse.

Health authorities estimated that they need to recruit a further 400 dentists - an increase of 3% on current numbers.

Applying the results to the whole of England and Wales, the BDA estimates that 550 extra dentists are needed.

Recruitment 'harder'

Half of the health authorities surveyed believed it was now harder to recruit salaried dentists than a year ago.

Among those advertising for dentists, one in five had advertised abroad.

The survey also found that waiting lists for dental treatment in hospitals are growing for treatment such as orthodontics (braces) and restorative dentistry.

The numbers waiting for oral surgery are decreasing.

John Hunt, chief executive of the British Dental Association, said: "We are very concerned at the increase in the number of people having problems in finding an NHS dentist.

"The government must start to address this problem seriously if NHS dentistry is to remain safe in their hands."

Government plans strategy

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said more than 600 extra dentists had begun working in the last year, bringing the total number to more than 20,000.

She said: "The government has been consulting widely and will soon publish its Strategy for NHS Dentistry.

"The BDA and many other organisations have provided their thoughts and ideas for consideration in the development of this strategy, which is of course geared towards ways to ensure and further improve the quality and availability of NHS Dentistry."

She added: "The government remains committed to high-quality NHS dental services, available to all who wish or need to make use of them."

The questionnaire was sent to 105 health authorities, and 75 responded.

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