Thousands gain new access to NHS dental care

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TENS of thousands more adults in Yorkshire are getting access to NHS dental care, latest figures reveal.

Nearly 2.35 million adults in the region saw an NHS dentist in the two years to June compared with fewer than 2.2 million in the same period prior to March 2006 when a controversial new contract for dentists was introduced, leading to an exodus of one in 10 practitioners.

But big differences in access still remain, with fewer than half of adults in the East Riding, Leeds, North Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire getting NHS care in the two years to June.

In contrast 72.7 per cent were treated in Doncaster, 66 per cent in Hull and 63.8 per cent in Wakefield.

The biggest improvements in access in the last five years have come in the East Riding, with 25,000 more people getting NHS care, an increase of 25 per cent.

But 11,000 fewer adults in North Yorkshire were treated over the period, a drop of 3.5 per cent on 2006, with a fall of 3.3 per cent in North Lincolnshire.

Overall 56.5 per cent of adults in Yorkshire were treated in the two years prior to June, while 73.4 per cent of children were seen.

Numbers of young people treated have risen by 2.7 per cent since 2004-6 in the region, which is against the national trend that has seen a reduction in treatment for children – although in some parts of Yorkshire dentists are seeing fewer children, notably North Yorkshire where there was a 10.6 per cent reduction over the period.

This contrasts with significant increases of more than 10 per cent in children treated on the NHS over the period in Rotherham, Calderdale, Bradford and North Lincolnshire as well as Kirklees, parts of which have been identified as having some of the worst rates of tooth decay among young people in England.

The 2006 contract was brought in by Labour to improve the quality of dental care and end a “drill and fill” culture which dentists complained stopped them offering patients better quality preventive care.

The outcry over the deal which saw tens of thousands of NHS patients lose access to care eventually led to a major overhaul of the contract two years ago linking payments to dentists to the quality of their care rather than the number of procedures carried out.

Further figures published by the NHS Information Centre yesterday show there were 2,367 NHS dentists working in Yorkshire in 2010-11, up from 1,933 in 2006-7. The 22 per cent increase in the region is double the average national rise.

It also showed that adults who do not pay for NHS dental treatment accounted for a bigger proportion of complex treatments than those who pay.

Less than a quarter of all courses of treatment in 2010-11 were for adults who get free NHS care, but they accounted for more than half of all complex treatment, some 1.2 million out of 2.2 million courses such as bridge work, crowns and dentures.

The report said the higher demand for complex treatments among non-paying adults could indicate they had lower standards of oral health.

Wakefield dentist John Milne, chairman of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: “The increasing number of patients who can access care is good news for those that it benefits, although the regional variations in the proportions of the population accessing care and fact that the percentage of children doing so remains below the March 2006 serve as reminders that there is no room for complacency.

“A new dental contract and commissioning arrangements for England are now being developed that should benefit dentists and their patients by creating a more prevention-oriented, quality-focused approach. Piloting for these arrangements is now beginning and it will be important that the Government maintains a constructive dialogue with profession as they are taken forward.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Access to NHS dentistry is improving, but we know more needs to be done. The Government is committed to improving access to NHS dental care and making high quality dental services available to everyone.

“We are reviewing the current dental contract and changes that might support this and are talking to the profession and patient groups for their views.”