Over 90% of NHS dental practices in Wales unable to offer appointments to new patients
Over 90% of NHS Dental practices in Wales are unable to offer appointments to new adult patients, according to a survey.
The UK-wide study revealed that 93% of NHS practises in Wales were not taking on new patients – the highest level in the UK.
The British Dental Association (BDA) and BBC identified 8,533 dental practices across the UK that were believed to hold NHS contracts, and attempts were made to call them all.
Across England, 91% of NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients.
The figures for Northern Ireland were 90% and for Scotland were 82%.
Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, said: “NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes.
“We’re seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic.”
“Without real reform and fair funding NHS dentistry will die, and our patients will pay the price.”
Last month, Wales’ new chief dental officer, Andrew Dickenson, announced plans to scrap the “outdated” practice of recalling people for check-ups every six months, and said this would allow practices across Wales to see up to 112,000 new patients a year.
The British Dental Association (BDA) called these claims “misleading” and they are being used to mask a “failure to invest in NHS dentistry”.
In March, BDA Wales called for an increase in funding from the Welsh Government amid accusations of “historic underfunding” compared to the rest of the UK.
Figures released by the Welsh Conservatives earlier in the year revealed government spending on NHS dentistry in Wales was £47 per head prior to the pandemic, compared to £55 in Scotland and £56 in Northern Ireland.
England has the lowest spend in the UK, with the amount of dentistry commissioned by NHS England reduced by more than 2 million units between 2010 and 2020 as UK Government contributions per head fell from £41.79 to £34.53.
The voluntary changes announced by the Chief Dental Officer have been introduced by the Welsh Government by varying the current Units of Dental Activity (UDA) contract system which has been used in England and Wales since 2006 and was deemed “unfit for purpose” by the UK Government’s Health Select Committee.
Children and young people under 18 will continue to be offered check-ups every six months.
More than two-thirds (78%) of all NHS dental practices have voluntarily signed up to the changes and have therefore been given a small target of “new patients” to see.
They will be required to open up slots for new patients, which are defined as people who have not yet registered with a dentist, and those who are registered but have not been seen by their dentist in more than four years.
Russell Gidney, the BDA’s Welsh General Dental Practice Committee chair, said: “The Welsh Government is attempting to conjure up new appointments without meaningful investment. Sadly, these claims look like they were cobbled together on the back of an envelope.
“Dentists have worked to similar guidelines for the best part of two decades. The fact is it could take a dozen healthy patients forfeiting annual check-ups to allow one new high-needs patient to be seen.
“Patients across Wales are facing an access crisis, while demoralised dentists are leaving the service in droves. These problems will not be solved with empty soundbites and misleading numbers.”
A study conducted by BDA Wales in April recorded high levels of stress among dentists in Wales, with over 70% of those questioned saying they were considering their career options.
Overall, 83.1% of respondents reported going to work, despite not feeling mentally well enough and almost half said they had done so for more than 10 days.
Nearly two thirds of dentists said they were considering taking early retirement and 82% said they planned to reduce the hours they work for the NHS over the next three years.
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