Access to NHS dentistry has been one of the most significant issues people have raised with Healthwatch over the last 18 months.

Not only have we seen a large increase in the volume of feedback and a huge increase in the amount of negative sentiment in our evidence, but, more strikingly, we have noted a continuation of this trend over time.

And that is why we are again calling on the Government and NHS England to speed up dental contract reform and provide significant and sustained funding to tackle the underlying problems of dental access and affordability.

Our latest findings show the following:

  • Public feedback on NHS dental care has risen five-fold over the last 18 months, compared to pre-pandemic levels. It now accounts for nearly 25% of all the feedback Healthwatch England receive.
  • Analysis of 8,019 people’s experiences of NHS dentistry between April 2020 and September 2021 shows that four in five people report struggling to access NHS dental care, including emergency treatment.
  • Positive sentiment, which was around 30% before the COVID-19 pandemic, is down to its lowest ever level – at just two per cent.
  • Some dental practices have either shut down or have gone fully private. Some dentists have used up their total NHS capacity and are asking people for private fees instead.
  • Many people find it hard to get up-to-date information about which practices are taking on new patients because NHS and dentists’ websites aren’t updated regularly. As a result, more people are contacting their local Healthwatch hoping that they’d provide them with accurate information.
  • It is often the most vulnerable people in our society, including children, disabled people and those living in care homes, who are suffering the most.

Regional data

In addition to our data, we compared data reported by NHS Digital about the number of adult and child patients seen in 2019 and 2021. The figures below highlight the reduction in numbers for England and the different NHS Geographic/Commissioning Regions:

Data chart

We analysed the latest data (7 Dec 2021) from NHS.UK, which was provided to us by NHS Digital, and found that of 5,4215 dental practices in England:

  • only 11% say they are currently taking on new adult NHS patients,
  • 12% say they accept charge-exempt adults,
  • and 17% take on children as NHS patients.

Regional data:

Data chart

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The Sunday Times published our new findings on NHS dentistry, at the weekend.

Newspaper article
Healthwatch England will be using the new data to call again to speed up dental contracts reform and they are due to meet the minister this week.