Ask the Dentist: Public happy with NHS dentistry despite government underfunding

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says confidence in public dentistry is high despite a lack of state funding

There is now more satisfaction with NHS dentist services than at any time since the 1990s
Lucy Stock

DENTISTS deserve a pat on the back as a recent survey has revealed that NHS satisfaction ratings have climbed to their highest since the 1990s. The analysis of the survey by the National Centre for Social Research's British Social Attitudes shows that the NHS satisfaction rating is up by seven percentage points to 61 per cent, the highest it's been since the early 1990s.

The British Dental Association (BDA) has welcomed the new data and urged dentists to take real pride in what they have achieved despite government indifference, sustained underfunding and the barriers presented by the target-driven 2006 contract that still remains in place.

"This profession can take pride in the fact that public satisfaction in NHS dentistry has hit a near 20-year high, in spite of chronic underfunding and discredited contracts," said Mick Armstrong, BDA chairman.

"Trust between patient and practitioner is the foundation of effective healthcare. The 2006 contract inflicted a nearly fatal wound at the heart of the service, and this recovery has come off the back of hard work and in the face of government indifference."

On the flip side, however, children and vulnerable patients risk losing out on access to free NHS dental treatment as the government is failing to do enough, says the BDA. New polling shows that just 74 per cent of parents are aware that routine check-ups are free for children aged under 18.

The new YouGov poll of 900 people also found that 42 per cent of parents have delayed a routine dental check-up for themselves because of dental treatment costs. Nearly one in 10 parents (8 per cent) admit to doing the same for one or more of their children aged under 18, even though no charges apply. This is all the more unfortunate as tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among children.

Dentist leaders have called on government to end the "confusion by design" that's helping keep young and vulnerable patients away from their right to free NHS dentistry. There's a call to improve promotion and signposting of charge exemptions to improve the situation.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, the BDA's chair of general dental practice, said: "NHS charges exist to discourage patients from seeking dental treatment, and now appear to be delivering results even among those who don't need to pay. Nearly five million children are failing to attend at an NHS dentist each year and extractions are surging. The fact so many parents are simply unaware these check-ups are free of charge shows just how little energy the government is putting into prevention.”

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