The BDA has welcomed leadership from Cornwall Council, as it voted today to take action over the growing access and recruitment problems facing NHS dental services across the county.
A cross party group of councillors lead by independent Loic Rich has cited new NHS England data showing over 48,000 patients on NHS waiting lists in Devon and Cornwall – facing average waiting times of 477 days. Just 18,508 were on waiting lists in January 2016, facing average waiting times of 357 days. The BDA has contacted a leading recruitment agency that has been unable to fill a single vacancy in Cornwall in the last 12 months, with even 'golden handshakes' insufficient to attract candidates to the area.
BDA analysis of nhs.uk has shown patients in Bodmin face round trips of up to 65 miles to Redruth to find practices able to accept new adult NHS patients. Patients in parts of Cumbria face journeys of up to 90 miles.
A recent national survey of dentists has underlined the depths of the current recruitment crisis, which is being felt in both urban and rural areas. 75% of NHS practice owners in England struggled to fill vacancies last year – rising to 84% among those with the highest NHS commitments. Figures have risen markedly in recent years, up from just 50% in 2016. Data also shows nearly 3 in 5 practitioners (59%) based in England are now planning to scale down or leave NHS work entirely in the next 5 years, rising to 67% among those with higher NHS commitments.
The UK government has failed to honour commitments made since 2010 to make a decisive break from the discredited 2006 NHS contract system which sets quotas on patient numbers and has fuelled morale problems in the sector. Dentists are penalised if they don't hit targets for activity, but are unable to treat extra patients even if they have capacity to do more.
Recent BDA analysis of the Government's GP Survey indicates over a million new patients tried and failed to access NHS dental care last year - nearly 22,000 in Cornwall alone. 43% of patients not on the books with an NHS dentist failed to secure access in the county – nearly double the average for England (22%).
The independent review body, the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration (DDRB), has been criticised by dentist leaders for recently describing the current recruitment issues as little more than 'anecdotal'.
The BDA's Chair of General Dental Practice Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen said: "Councillors in Cornwall are showing the kind of leadership we really need to see from Westminster.
"The crisis in NHS dentistry is now hitting communities from Cornwall to Cumbria. Underfunding and a failed contract have left dental practices without dentists, and our patients are seeing the result.
"The official line is recruitment problems are just anecdotal, even though the government's own surveys show over a million new patients tried and failed to access care last year.
"Aren't a million anecdotes enough to make Ministers wake up to this problem?"