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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 August 2007, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Dentistry access 'not improving'
Dentist
The new contract started last April
A shake-up in NHS dentistry in England has failed to increase access to services, government figures show.

A Department of Health report showed 28.1m people had been to an NHS dentist in the previous 24 months.

This was 50,000 down on the figures on the eve of the changes in April 2006. The number of dentists in the system has also fallen.

Patient groups said dentistry needed urgent attention, but the government said it was on a more secure footing.

The new contract was meant to tempt more dentists to work in the NHS by paying them the same money for seeing less patients.

This is not a picture of success and confidence
Peter Ward, of the British Dental Association

Dentists have long-complained that they face a "drill and fill" environment whereby they have to maximise the number of people they treat.

Instead, the new contract was meant to allow them to spend more time with patients to do preventative work, supposedly making NHS work more attractive.

But dentists have been critical of the new arrangements, which also saw a simplified charging system introduced, because of what they say is a lack of money in the system.

The official figures show that there were 21,038 NHS dentists in England at the end of March 2007, down on the 21,111 figure in March 2006.

Although, the contract did end up attracting new dentists into the system because 1,000 dentists left the NHS when the new deal came in to either retire or concentrate solely on private patients.

Difficulties

The government's report admitted there were "significant challenges ahead" and some areas still had access difficulties.

But it said the NHS was now on a more secure footing as local health bosses working for primary care trusts had been giving responsibility for planning services properly.

Under the old system, no-one was in charge for ensuring good local access to care.

The report said patient access was likely to improve in the future.

Liz Phelps, of Citizens Advice, said: "We continue to report huge problems for people trying to find an NHS dentist locally.

"The urgent priority must now be to make the reforms work for patients by funding the new arrangements adequately."

And Peter Ward, chief executive of the British Dental Association, said: "This is not a picture of success and confidence.

"The government must start listening to the profession and patients."

Health Minister Ann Keen said: "I know the transition to the new arrangements has been challenging.

But she added: "One year on, we have a system that provides a much more secure basis for developing dental services over the coming years."




SEE ALSO
Q&A: NHS dentistry
28 Mar 07 |  Health
Thousands of dentists ditch NHS
07 Apr 06 |  Health

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