Drop in dentists' patient numbers

THE number of people seeing an NHS dentist in Suffolk and Essex has tumbled despite the introduction of government contracts aimed at improving accessibility, new figures have revealed.

Russell Claydon

THE number of people seeing an NHS dentist in Suffolk and Essex has tumbled despite the introduction of government contracts aimed at improving accessibility, new figures have revealed.

Just over half of the population were treated by an NHS dentist in the east of England, falling by nearly 100,000 people, the Government's latest published figures show.

The findings appear to run contrary to the government's claims that the new dentistry contracts, which came into force in early 2006, would improve access for patients and lead to better prevention and quality of care.


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Instead it seems many dentists have favoured a move to the private sector which has left some patients in Suffolk and Essex on long waiting lists or struggling to find a surgery close to home.

The biggest drop in patients seeing an NHS dentist was in the North East Essex Primary Care Trust (PCT) area, where 7.4% less patients were seen from the quarters ending 31 March 2006 to 31 December 2007. This amounted to 20,466 less people receiving NHS dental treatment.

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Elswhere in Essex there was 573 less patients being seen (a 0.3% fall) for the same period in Mid Essex PCT.

In the area served by Suffolk PCT there was a 2% fall in the number of people receiving treatment from an NHS dentist for the same period - 9,000 fewer people.

The situation in Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT bucked the trend with 7,101 more people being treated.

The general trend of a decrease in patients seeing NHS dentists in the region was in line with the national picture with a total of 920,903 fewer people in the two years to December 2007 than in the two years to April 2006, according to data from the Information Centre for Health and Social Care and StatsWales.

Peter Ward, the chief executive of the British Dental Association, said: “These figures offer fresh evidence that the reforms have failed to achieve their stated aims. They've failed to improve access to care for patients and failed to allow dentists to provide the modern, preventive care they want to deliver.

“Instead, this contract encourages sporadic, episodic treatment, rather than the long-term, continuing relationships that dentists and their patient's value.

“The government must heed these statistics and work with patients and dentists to find a constructive solution to the problems with the reforms behind this decline.”

The Conservative health minister, Mike Penning, said: “These figures are yet another damning indictment of Labour's appalling management of NHS dentistry.

“The fact that over 300,000 people lost their dentist in three months alone shows just how bad things are getting.

“The government urgently needs to sort things out and live up to its promise of NHS dentistry for all. On the basis of these figures, for every day that they dither, another 4,000 people are losing their NHS dentist.”

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