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Why It’s So Difficult to Find an NHS Dentist in the UK?

Despite government pledges, people in the UK continue to struggle to find NHS dentists. The situation is particularly dire in the North East, where another dental practice is set to become private-only in September. The High Barnes dentist in Sunderland has been operating at a loss while providing NHS services, leaving hundreds of patients in need of alternatives.

Why It’s So Difficult To Find An Nhs Dentist In The Uk?

Challenges Faced by NHS Dentistry:

  1. Funding Shortfall: The root of the problem lies in inadequate funding. The government provides only about 50% of the necessary funding for dental practices to care for every patient. This leaves half of the population without access to an NHS dentist.
  2. Appointment Availability: Nearly nine out of ten NHS dental practices are now unable to accept new adult patients. In some regions, such as the South West, Yorkshire, and the Humber, this rate climbs to about 98% of all dental practices. Even those lucky enough to secure an NHS appointment often face waiting lists of a year or longer.
  3. Complex Registration: Navigating the complex registration process for NHS dental care can be challenging. Patients may struggle to find available practices or receive unclear information about wait times.

Government Reforms and Impact:

  • In July 2022, the government announced reforms allowing high-performing practices to provide up to 110% of their agreed activity. Legislation also enables commissioners to change dental contracts if providers consistently fail to deliver contracted activity.
  • Despite these reforms, stakeholders argue that the current NHS dental contract remains inflexible and fails to adequately reward dentists for treating complex cases.

Recent Progress:

  • The government has invested over £3 billion annually in NHS dentistry.
  • Reforms include increased payments for high-need patients, updated NHS websites to show accepting practices and utilization of dental therapists and hygienists.
  • The number of dental treatments delivered has risen significantly, with 32.5 million courses of treatment in 2022-23.
  • 18.1 million adults were seen by an NHS dentist in the 24 months up to June 2023, a 10% increase from the previous year.

Boosting the Dental Workforce:

  • Efforts are underway to increase the dental workforce. In 2022-23, there were 1,352 more dentists doing NHS work than in 2010-11.

Despite these positive steps, the question remains: With all the funding why is it still so hard to find an NHS dentist?

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