Back in 2000, when 'investment' in the NHS seemed to know no limits, the government felt confident enough to promise all citizens access to an NHS dentist within just two years. A report brought out today though, by the charity Citizens Advice, reveals the impressive extent to which the government has failed to deliver on this promise.
The report found that 'lack of access is the most common reason cited by people in England and Wales for not seeing an NHS dentist since April 2006, along with not needing treatment. It was mentioned by 31% of respondents in England and Wales who have not been to an NHS dentist since April 2006. This is the equivalent of approximately 7.4 million people who have not been to an NHS dentist since April 2006 because of difficulties in finding one. Of these, the equivalent of approximately 4.7 million have sought private treatment instead and the equivalent of approximately 2.7 million have gone without treatment altogether.
Publicly funded dentistry under this government has been woefully neglected. Year on year, the numbers
who use an NHS dentist fall - 266,000 fewer in 2006 than in 2005. At the same time, and no doubt in part responsible for the fall in patients, the cost of seeing an NHS dentist has risen substantially. Under the 2006 dentistry contract drawn up by the government, some dentists were forced to put up prices for a regular check-up from £6 to £16. Many see that contract as the straw that broke the camel's back, encouraging many dentists to move into private practice and pricing publicly funded oral health care beyond the means of those who need it most. As the NHS enters its 60th year, it is a telling state of affairs that one of the planks on which it was built - government funded dentistry - looks set to be one of the first parts of it to slide into obsolescence.