The state of NHS dentistry is a national disgrace and issues date back to the last Labour government - Andrew Vine

A dental appointment beckons on Thursday, and the scene at my surgery while patients are waiting to be seen sums up the dire state of NHS dentistry.

In reception, the phone rings constantly. All of us hear the same reply to at least half the calls: “I’m sorry, but we’re not accepting new NHS patients at the moment”.

It’s the same whenever I go, and has been for years – a constant stream of calls from desperate people ringing round every dentist they can find in the hope of getting treatment. It doesn’t take any leap of the imagination to work out that many of them must be in pain.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Every time I overhear these calls, I thank my lucky stars that I have access to an NHS dentist.

A dentist carrying out a check up on a patient. PIC: Rui Vieira/PA WireA dentist carrying out a check up on a patient. PIC: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
A dentist carrying out a check up on a patient. PIC: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

And luck is what I have to thank. Had it not been for a family member then working at the practice who got me in when a rare vacancy came up, I would probably be one of the people ringing every dentist in the phone book or compelled to raid my savings to go private.

But most people don’t have such a stroke of luck, and getting affordable dental treatment shouldn’t depend on knowing someone who can do you a favour.

The state of NHS dentistry is a national disgrace. It defies belief that in the Britain of 2024 – one of the wealthiest economies on Earth – people are reduced to behaving like medieval peasants in yanking out their own rotten teeth with pliers, or that the main cause of hospital admissions for young children is tooth decay.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Generations of us took appointments with the dentist for granted, and those growing up now should still be able to. Instead of which, we’re going to see people in their late teens or early 20s with severe dental problems or even dentures because their parents are unable to find – or afford – a dentist.

A once-universal healthcare provision has been allowed to collapse because of chronic government mismanagement, leaving dental wastelands and people having to make 100-mile round trips for treatment.

A regular feature of neighbourhood websites are pleas for information about any NHS practices that take new patients.

On one such forum, in Bridlington, last week the announcement of a new housing development that includes affordable homes for first-time buyers was greeted with comments that none of its occupants would be able to find a dentist locally.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The truth of that was confirmed days later when it emerged that Bridlington’s sole NHS dental practice has 8,500 people on its waiting list, which translates to a wait of about eight years for even the chance of an appointment.

A few miles north, in Scarborough, residents have complained bitterly in The Yorkshire Post about there being no chance of finding a dentist, and our larger towns or cities are hardly better.

During a debate in the Commons earlier this month, Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel pointed out that there isn’t a single NHS dentist in the city accepting new patients.

This, let’s not forget, is the most prosperous of Yorkshire cities and the principal driver of our region’s economy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Residents in every part of Yorkshire will be able to testify to the lack of NHS provision. In an age where medical advances deliver better lives for longer for countless people, the nation’s dental health is going backwards.

This has been a crisis a long time in the making, and those blaming it all on the evil Tories, like Labour’s health spokesman Wes Streeting, ought to pipe down because both major parties bear a share of the responsibility.

It was Labour under Tony Blair that kicked the legs from under NHS dentistry in 2006, with a badly flawed new contract.

Dentists protested from the start that it limited the number of patients they could see and discouraged them from taking on new ones. In the years since then, dentists have consistently maintained they cannot survive on payments under the contract and many turned their practices private.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Their warnings were ignored by Labour throughout its remaining years in power, and despite promises to review the contract by successive Conservative premiers since 2010, virtually nothing has been done.

NHS dentistry has shrivelled as a result, leaving people paying a price of pain and distress for a terrible misjudgement and subsequent inaction to remedy it.

Amid the many problems facing the NHS, rebuilding dentistry must be a priority for whoever forms the next government.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.