New report shows at least 8 million people will be waiting for an NHS dentist this Christmas

– Study exposes fresh crisis in England’s dentistry system and calls for urgent action
– Analysis is authored by Richard Sloggett, former aide to Health Secretary Matt Hancock

A new report published today projects that around 8 million people will be waiting for NHS dental treatment this Christmas, but unable to access a dentist to perform it.

The findings point to an unprecedented proportion of people being unable to access the NHS at any one time – 8 million people represents around 14% of the English population, or around one in seven people.

The fear among dentists is that record numbers of mouth cancer cases are going undiagnosed while more than a million fillings may have been missed this year.

The analysis is published today by the Association of Dental Groups, who commissioned Matt Hancock’s former aide to conduct an independent ‘state of the nation’ report on access to dentistry.

The work shows London to be the worst region in the country to access a dentist, with around 1.5m people in the capital waiting at Christmas – equivalent to around 17% of its population, or one in six people. The Midlands will have 1.3m waiting; around one in eight people.

Region Patients waiting at Christmas

London 1,500,000
Midlands 1,300,000
North East and Yorkshire 1,200,000
South East 1,200,000
North West 1,000,000
East of England 950,000
South West 800,000

In the report, called “30 years of hurt”, Mr Sloggett notes that restrictions on the flow of people that can be seen in dental surgeries due to the pandemic are quickly making access a huge problem. He points out that the root cause is that the system has been underfunded and neglected for decades.

“For 30 years, dentistry in England has been the forgotten service of the NHS. It is time for that to change.”

The report suggests there is no way at present to tackle the backlog due to a crippling lack of NHS dentists and proposes several urgent recommendations for boosting dentistry recruitment, including by:

Boosting training: increasing the number of placements in England along with incentives to work in areas with acute staff shortages;

Routes for overseas professionals to fill short term gaps: because it takes five years to train a dentist, for the short term, automatic recognition of EU dentistry qualifications should be maintained after Brexit and recognition of dental qualifications from good schools outside the EEA should be extended.

Boosting retention of NHS dentists: Many dentists are leaving the sector or moving from the NHS to private practice due to dissatisfaction with the current NHS dental contract. Government needs to look into this urgently and open up a process of reform.

Commenting on the report, Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Association of Dental Groups and former Conservative MP for Stroud said:

“These figures represent real suffering, with hundreds of thousands – potentially over a million – fillings going unperformed, plus a host of other treatments piling up, as well as undiagnosed cases of mouth cancer. Even when the Covid restrictions are lifted, dealing with this will take months. We need urgent action now to draft in more dental professionals to tackle the crisis.”

Click here to read the full report – 30 Years of Hurt Report