Access to NHS dentistry in decay across Dorset

Latest figures reveal there’s been a further decline in the number of adults in Dorset who got to see an NHS dentist – now just a third of the local population – and it’s having, “long term health and wellbeing implications”.

In a report to be presented to Dorset Council’s people and health scrutiny committee on Halloween, Tuesday 31st October 2023, the gruesome statistics show that access to NHS dentistry in Dorset, “remains challenging”.

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NHS Dentist in Swanage

The only dentist in Swanage that offers NHS treatment is Smile in Kings Road West but it’s not accepting new patients

Nearest NHS dentist for Swanage new patients is in Southampton

In Swanage, there’s one dental practice which offers treatment on the NHS but it’s not accepting any new NHS patients.

The nearest practice to Swanage accepting new NHS patients, both children and adults is in Southampton, although there is Poole Lane Dental Practice in Bournemouth which is accepting new NHS registrations to children only.

Fewer adults in Dorset saw a NHS dentist in 2022 than 2021

The update to councillors on dental services has been written by the deputy director strategic commissioning for NHS Dorset, Rob Payne.

The figures reveal that the total number of adults seeing an NHS dentist in Dorset decreased by 5.2 percent in the 12 months to June 2022, compared to the previous year.

This is a drop of 33,967 patients who didn’t get to see a dentist, despite an easing of restrictions due to the Covid pandemic. This is fewer in percentage terms than compared to figures for the whole of England.

There’s better news for children, with the total number seeing an NHS dentist in Dorset increasing by 12.3 percent in the 12 months to June 2022, compared to the previous year.

This means that 17,460 more children got to see a dentist. However this is still fewer in percentage terms than compared to figures for the whole of England.

Access to NHS dentist statistics

  • Adults seeing NHS dentist in Dorset 12 months to June 2021: 265,915 (42 percent)
  • Adults seeing NHS dentist in Dorset 12 months to June 2022: 231,948 (36.6 percent)
  • Adults seeing NHS dentist in England 12 months to June 2022: (36.9 percent)
  • Children seeing NHS dentist in Dorset 12 months to June 2021: 48,187 (33.5 percent)
  • Children seeing NHS dentist in Dorset 12 months to June 2022: 65,947 (45.8 percent)
  • Children seeing NHS dentist in England 12 months to June 2022: (46.2 percent)
Map of NHS dentists in Dorset

In July 2023 there were 109 high street dentists (marked by a red dot) that provided general dental services on the NHS in Dorset, however the vast majority are not accepting new patients

Lack of NHS dentists in Dorset

So why is access to NHS dentistry so difficult? Inevitably one reason has been the consequences of the Covid pandemic, which meant that all but the most urgent emergency treatment was stopped in March 2020. The report says:

“The commissioning of dental services returned to full activity levels in July 2022, but the impact of the Covid pandemic and the reduction of staffing resources since that time has greatly reduced practices ability to maintain activity levels.”

“Opting to go private”

Staffing resources, according to the report, is the main reason for the lack of access to dental care in Dorset:

“A key factor affecting access to NHS dentistry is workforce. The lack of dentists in the area undermines the ability of high street practices to meet their contracts.

“The reasons for the unwillingness of dentists to come to the South West are not necessarily different to those affecting other sectors of the health and social care system.

“Dorset is viewed as a lifestyle choice by both the medical and dental profession and, due to several factors including limited training opportunities, the younger generation often tend to favour the larger cities.

“Further reasons for the unwillingness of dentists to come to the South West is the low UDA value (the amount dentists get paid for their work). This is becoming an increasing concern across the region with dental practices becoming financially unviable, due to the large increase in running costs, but no proportionate increase in contract value.

“These factors make it extremely difficult for practices to attract dentists to the area and are also a large contributing factor for dentists opting to go private as opposed to continuing with NHS dental contracts.”

The Regency Dental Practice in Swanage has recently gone private, though it does still have spaces for new clients

Regency Dental on the corner of Kings Road West and Court Road in Swanage, only offers private dental treatment

Addressing the problems

The government is responsible for setting the rate that is paid to dentists and so there’s not much that can be done locally about the financial problem.

This leaves the report addressing what it can influence but the list is clearly limited.

It does highlight the South West Dental Reform Programme which was established in 2020 and is essentially a joint working initiative across the NHS, local authorities and key stakeholders to tackle the problems.

Initiatives include working with 111 and dental helplines across the South West to streamline the services, encouraging more overseas dentists to settle in the South West, working with dental schools and informing students about NHS dentistry, looking at the potential for a supervised toothbrushing scheme across the region, and networking with colleagues across the South West to give dental services a bigger profile.

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

There’s plenty of attractions to working in Swanage for NHS professionals but it’s not the money

“Market Dorset to healthcare professionals”

However the report does extract one possible idea for Dorset Council to undertake to tackle the staffing crisis:

“Dorset colleagues are also asked to note that improving access to primary care for people in Dorset would benefit from consideration on how the council, working in partnership, can market Dorset to healthcare professionals.”

So in other words, if we can’t attract dentists to move to Dorset for the money, let’s show all those new graduates the attractions of working in Dorset for the NHS – the beautiful natural environment, the good schools, the comparative safety of the villages and towns, and the reward of serving local communities where they will be appreciated.

Without increasing access to NHS dentistry in Dorset, the report warns of more people turning to other parts of the health service for treatment of dental pain. And for those who can’t afford private care, then there are, “long term health and wellbeing implications”.

Further information

  • The Update on Dental Services and Commissioning report
  • Dorset Council people and health scrutiny committee agenda
  • The committee meeting is at 10 am on Tuesday 31st October 2023 in the Council Chamber at County Hall in Dorchester DT1 1XJ
  • Find the nearest NHS dentist taking on new patients

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