Eight million people waiting for an NHS dental appointment

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Around one in seven people in the UK are unable to access NHS treatment this Christmas, a new study shows.

The Association of Dental Groups’ (ADG) study shows this equates to around 14% of the English population.

There are vast regional differences too:

  • London – 1,500,000 patients waiting
  • Midlands – 1,300,000 patients waiting
  • North east and Yorkshire – 1,200,000 patients waiting
  • South east – 1,200,000 patients waiting
  • North west – 1,000,000 patients waiting
  • East of England – 950,000 patients waiting
  • South west – 800,000 patients waiting.

‘These figures represent real suffering,’ Neil Carmichael, chair of the ADG and former Conservative MP for Stroud, says.

‘(There are) hundreds of thousands – potentially over a million – fillings going unperformed. Plus a host of other treatments piling up, as well as undiagnosed cases of mouth cancer.

‘Even when we lift the COVID restrictions, dealing with this will take months.

‘We need urgent action now to draft in more dental professionals to tackle the crisis.’

‘Crippling’ lack of NHS dentists

These figures come in the ADG’s report title 30 years of hurt highlighting the need to change NHS dentistry.

It highlights a ‘crippling lack of NHS dentists’ and proposes several ways to boost numbers working in the dental profession.

These include:

  • Boost training – increase the number of placements in England along with incentives to work in areas with acute staff shortages
  • Routes for overseas professionals to fill short term gaps
  • Boost retention of NHS dentists – the report urges the government to look into why so many dentists move away from NHS dentistry towards private dentistry.

‘We urgently need to find ways of breaking the logjam,’ Mr Carmichael says in his foreword. ‘That means encouraging more dentists to train here in the UK.

‘But we also need to remove the needless obstacles to recruiting and onboarding outstanding clinicians who receive training abroad. 

‘Only if this happens will we have a chance of helping the millions of people whose oral health is being punished by the pandemic.’

Mouth cancer rates

The report also highlights the possible number of mouth cancer cases going undetected due to missed appointments.

Mouth cancer referrals have already fallen by one third since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic recent data shows.

The Oral Health Foundation is therefore calling for quick action surrounding cancer diagnosis.

‘Regular dental check-ups and GP appointments are the main routes for identifying the early stages of mouth cancer,’ Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says.

‘We fear that without access to dental and wider health professionals, that many mouth cancer cases will go undiagnosed.

‘A person’s quality of life after being treated for mouth cancer, as well as their chances of beating the disease, is highly dependent on the time of diagnosis. By allowing so many potential mouth cancers to go untreated, there is a real danger of more people losing their life to the disease.

‘While dental and GP visits remain disrupted it is important that everybody knows how to check themselves for mouth cancer.’


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