20 February 2004
More than 50% of people in England are not registered with a National Health Service dentist, new figures have revealed. They show that only 44% of adults and 60% of children were signed on last year.
The Department of Health has rejected claims that NHS dentistry is in crisis. 'We recognise that there is a shortage,' a department spokesman said.
The figures, published in response to parliamentary questions from the Liberal Democrats, reveal huge variations. Only 37% of children in Kent and Medway are registered with an NHS dentist, compared with 67% in Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
LibDem health spokesman Paul Burstow claimed NHS dentists were refusing to take on new patients. He said only 10,700 of the 16,649 dentists in England were accepting children as patients and just 8,830 were offering free treatment to adults.
'With so few dentists accepting NHS patients, it is little wonder that the levels of people registering with the NHS are so low. As NHS cover declines, so too does dental health. The government must get to grips with the crisis in dental health.'
This week, 300 people queued for up to four hours to register with a new NHS dentistry practice setting up in Scarborough in North Yorkshire. Health officials in the town said they would now appoint a second NHS dentist.
John Renshaw, chair of the British Dental Association and himself a Scarborough dentist, said: 'It makes us look like a Third World town. This is shabby treatment for people who can't even access decent quality services.'