Demand for dentistsWhich? reveals concern over finding a dentist

01 March 2006

Most people fear it will be harder to find an NHS dentist in England over the next year, new Which? research has revealed.

We've found that consumers are deeply concerned about whether they'll be able to get dental treatment on the NHS, and many don't believe that the government can deliver on its promises to improve services.

On 1 April this year there will be a major government shake-up of NHS dentistry in England and Wales. This will see a new contract for dentists and a three-tier pricing system.

Three set charges

There will be three set fees and the cost of each treatment will be fixed at one of the three charges. For example, simple procedures such as check-ups will cost the lowest of the three set charges: GBP 15.50 in England and GBP 12 in Wales. Currently, patients are charged for different elements of a check-up, such as X-rays, but under the new system, everything would be covered by that fee.

Ministers believe the reforms will benefit patients and also encourage dentists to remain in the NHS.

But in our survey of 855 people in England, 78 per cent believed it would get harder over the next 12 months to find an NHS dentist to treat them, and 79 per cent said they didn't trust the government to improve NHS dentistry over the next year. Those aged over 55 were particularly sceptical about the government.

Government has 'lost public trust'

Sara Apps, of Which? Campaigns, said: 'The government has lost public trust in delivering accessible dental treatment to all. The new reforms should in theory help people to find an NHS dentist, but there is still a huge lack of clarity over how they will work in practice.

'The government must closely monitor the situation over the next six months to ensure that the changes are indeed working in delivering better access to dental services and be prepared to act if they are not.'

But Health Minister Rosie Winterton said: 'The public has every reason to be confident in the future of NHS dentistry. The early signs are that the vast majority of dentists will sign up to the new contracts.

'The new contracts offer dentists with a reasonable commitment to the NHS an average income of GBP 80,000, after expenses are taken into account. This income is guaranteed for three years. All this for at least 5 per cent less work than under the old contract. This is a good and fair offer to dentists. If dentists choose not to sign up, the local NHS will use that funding to buy services from other dentists.'

Ms Winterton added: 'There are more NHS dentists now than ever and the numbers are growing. Since April 2004, we have invested an extra GBP 250 million in dental services and recruited the equivalent of over 1,400 new dentists to the NHS.'

Find a dentist

To find whether any dentists in your area are taking NHS patients, type in your postcode to the NHS Direct website for England or the NHS website for Wales.

There's no central facility on the NHS website for Scotland, but consumers can contact NHS 24 or their health board for a list.