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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
In search of an NHS dentist
Dentist and patient
NHS dentistry reforms are due to be implemented in April 2005
Dentists are threatening to reduce or axe NHS treatment in opposition to planned service reforms, a survey has found.

With official figures showing half of people in England are currently without access to an NHS dentist, BBC News Online reporters across England and Wales set about finding out how difficult it was to get an appointment.

Francesca Glyn-Jones, Scarborough

I rang all 19 dentist practices listed on the NHS England website and not one could offer me an NHS appointment close to my postcode.

All the listings stated practices were not taking on NHS patients but I persevered, with little success.

One receptionist told me their list of 500 people had been closed since May last year.

She said the practice receives around a dozen calls a day from people wanting to register and they have tried to recruit another dentist. The post has been advertised for two years, but with no luck. Until another dentist comes along, the list will remain closed.

Most practices advised me to contact NHS Direct with my query. I did - my nearest NHS dentist would be 17 miles away in Bridlington.

Paul Burnell, Manchester

Typing my postcode into NHS Direct revealed 20-plus dentists scattered across Salford's inner city estates and the upmarket areas of Manchester's city centre. More than half were not accepting NHS patients at all.

Others were taking new patients but could not promise an appointment until August.

Six to eight weeks was the average waiting time although one promised an appointment in two weeks.

Any enquiries about emergencies were referred to Manchester's dental hospital more than three miles and two bus rides away with the advice, "Be early. It's first-come, first-served and they don't take anybody after 11am."

Only one practice - in the inner city - said, "Come and wait and we will see if we can fit you in."

Tanya Gupta, Brighton

It took me a minute on the website and three minutes on the telephone to get an appointment within 24 hours for a dentist to take a look at a painful wisdom tooth - but it did take five telephone calls.

The first, to a practice in the centre of Brighton, led to disheartening waffle from a dental receptionist about how they had combined NHS and private services.

The result was that I could only get an NHS check-up with them but no treatment - whereas an emergency appointment would have to be private and would cost me 40.

The next three calls were to practices whose telephone lines were engaged - I could only assume other people whose wisdom teeth were hurting were also looking for a dentist.

But the fifth surgery I called said an NHS dentist could see me the next day.

The whole search took less than 10 minutes.

Zoe Gough, Birmingham

I used the NHS England website and put in my postcode; it showed out of the five dentists closest to me only two were registering fee-paying adults for regular NHS treatment.

I rang the surgery listed as being the closest to my workplace, just 0.6km (0.4 miles) away.

It was listed as registering paying adults, exempt adults and children who wish to be treated on the NHS, as well as occasional patients who are not registered.

The phone rang out for a few seconds before it was answered - the receptionist confirmed they were registering NHS patients and told me all I had to do was make an appointment.

I was surprised to find they could fit me in at 1540 BST the same day due to a cancellation. If I could not make that appointment, she told me the next available one was 3 June at 1035 BST.

Lynn Crombie, Sunderland

I logged onto the NHS website at 1044 BST and followed the link, putting in my postcode to find a dentist in the Sunderland area. Six minutes and three phone calls later I was able to get an appointment.

The first dentist surgery I called said the earliest appointment would be on 7 July.

The second surgery I called said they were not taking on new people but a new dentist would be joining the surgery in August and he would be taking on new patients then; I was told I could expect an appointment by 15 August.

But the third I called, in the centre of Sunderland, said I could register over the telephone and I could have an immediate appointment if I had toothache, or they could book me in for a check-up in two days' time.

It was quite easy to follow the link and six minutes was all it took. It is worth mentioning about half the dentist surgeries on the list state they are not taking on new patients for NHS treatment, but there appeared to be enough choice in different parts of the city.

Carl Yapp, Aberystwyth

As with other regions in the UK, trying to sign up to an NHS dental surgery in mid-Wales can be as painful as the treatment itself.

NHS Direct Wales' website offers a quick and efficient search procedure for would-be patients, but my inquiry brings up no details.

Contacting the service via phone is equally frustrating. The nearest dentist to Aberystwyth accepting patients is in the seaside town of Barmouth, but NHS Direct says because the surgery is in a different county, although only 20 miles away, patients from Aberystwyth may not be accepted.

Besides, they add that there is a waiting list until August for those NHS patients wanting to register.

There are another two NHS practices accepting NHS patients in Ystradgynlais and Crickhowell, but they are an 80-mile trek away.

However all is not lost because there is a surgery 47 miles away, although it's in another country - England. The surgery is in the Shropshire town of Ludlow.

The Welsh assembly has offered grants to encourage health service dentists to set up or expand in areas where there are shortages, but so far this has failed to attract the number of dentists required.

Dentists issue warning over NHS
26 May 04 |  Health
Patients queue for private dentist
24 May 04 |  North East Wales

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