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NHS dentist access 'gets harder'

28 February 08 17:34 GMT

The government's reforms of NHS dentist care in England do not seem to have improved access, figures suggest.

Over 500,000 fewer patients were seen in the last two years, compared to the 24 months prior to the introduction of a new contract in 2006.

The NHS Information Centre data showed 27.6m patients were seen by an NHS dentist in the 24 months leading up to September 2007 - half the population.

The government said it was confident access would improve in time.

The deal was designed to allow dentists to spend more time with NHS patients in a bid to make the profession more attractive.

But the latest figures suggest access to services has become harder - although the latest two-year period does include six months under the old contract.

Some 28.15m were seen in the 24 months leading up to the end of the old dental contract on March 2006.

Susie Sanderson, of the British Dental Association, said: "Today's statistics offer fresh evidence that the government's reforms to NHS dentistry have failed to achieve the stated aim of improving access to care for patients.

"The reforms have also failed to allow dentists to deliver the kind of modern, preventive care they believe their patients deserve."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "The crisis in NHS dentistry is this government's hidden legacy.

"When will the government bow to the inevitable and admit that the dental contract has failed."

And shadow health minister Mike Penning added: "These figures are a disgrace considering Labour's promises that everyone would have access to an NHS dentist."

Chief dental officer Dr Barry Cockcroft said: "The government remains fully committed to improving access to NHS dentists.

"The figures released today show the decrease in access which occurred immediately after the introduction of the new contact last year.

"Since then vigourous growth in dental services has led to improved access for patients. It will take time before the current, improved access levels appear in official figures."

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