More patient misery as the NHS loses 700 dentists despite claims from the government that reforms have boosted numbers
Patients have been warned they are likely to face continued long waits for care as the NHS is ‘haemorrhaging’ dentists.
Figures show 23,577 dentists took on NHS work in England in 2022-23, down from 24,272 in the previous financial year – a drop of 695.
The last time levels fell below 24,000 – apart from during the Covid pandemic when some services were halted – was in 2014-15, suggests the data obtained by the British Dental Association.
The union said the Government should now ‘drop any pretence that NHS dentistry is on the road to recovery and finally deliver a meaningful rescue package’.
It argues that the latest data is at odds with repeated claims from the Prime Minister, ministers and officials that recent reforms have boosted dentist numbers.
Figures show 23,577 dentists took on NHS work in England in 2022-23, down from 24,272 in the previous financial year – a drop of 695 (file image)
Public satisfaction with NHS dentistry has plummeted as many struggle to be seen, with many surgeries closed to new patients.
According to the BDA, practices are struggling to fill dentist vacancies, which means they face fines for not hitting their NHS targets.
It estimates practices will have to pay back more than £400million for missing targets this year.
Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the union’s general dental practice committee, said: ‘Government needs to drop the spin and provide a rescue package to keep this service afloat.
‘NHS dentistry is haemorrhaging talent and further tweaks to a broken system will not stem the flow. We face an access crisis and with hundreds of millions set to be pulled away, funds must be put to work solving these problems.’
The union wants to see a higher minimum Unit of Dental Activity [a measure of the amount of work done during dental treatment value], which it says could help stop dentists having to treat NHS patients at a loss.
‘A minimum UDA level of £23 was rolled out in October, below the level required for most practices to cover their costs,’ it said.
A BDA survey in England showed that half of dentists had cut the proportion of NHS work they did compared with the start of the pandemic by over a quarter.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Daisy Cooper called for urgent reform and investment, accusing ministers of driving dentists away and ‘driving our dental service into the ground’.
The findings were obtained by the BDA from the NHS Business Services Authority using Freedom of Information laws.