At the time of writing (July 2023), patients across the UK are struggling to access NHS Dentistry services. We are keenly aware of this situation, and would like to take the opportunity to explain why it has become virtually impossible to find an NHS dentist in Horsham, and in towns and cities throughout the country.
Lockdown effects on UK dentistry
As most people know, the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions severely impacted the ability of dentists to carry out their work.
NHS dentistry was all but cancelled during the first stages of the lockdown, quickly creating a huge backlog of patients. When treatment was permitted to resume, it was under strict rules surrounding protective equipment (PPE), Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGP’s), and buffer time (fallow time) that had to be left between patients.
Dentists then faced an impossible task – Clear a mounting patient backlog (with many patients presenting with more serious issues as a result of not being seen), while having less time than ever available for appointments.
NHS Dentistry Funding Shortfall
While the pandemic and lockdown measures have had an enormous impact that is still being felt, the crisis we’re now seeing unfold in NHS Dentistry is the result of severe funding problems that long predate the pandemic.
The way NHS Dentistry is funded is quite complex, but to put it simply, dentists receive roughly half the funding needed for the UK population. To put that another way, if a treatment costs your dentist £100 to provide, NHS funding reimburses only £50 of it.
This shortfall has existed for a long time, and has traditionally been subsidised by private dental work for treatments not covered under the NHS, such as implant surgery, Invisalign, teeth whitening etc.
However, the pandemic and lockdown restrictions brought too much extra pressure to bear on an already precarious situation.
Why Dentists Aren’t Taking on NHS Patients
As a result of these issues, serious funding problems compounded by lockdown, taking on a patient under the NHS is effectively a loss-making activity for a dental practice. Unfortunately, that is not sustainable.
This, in a nutshell, is why it is becoming virtually impossible to register with a dental practice as a new NHS patient. The crisis in NHS dentistry is a UK-wide problem that affects Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England.
Some clinics are continuing to honour appointments with their existing NHS patients (while taking measures to cut down frequency and supplementing with a growing amount of private work), while many others are deciding to leave the NHS altogether and only offer private services. Since the end of 2020, at least 2000 dentists have left the NHS, piling pressure on the remaining practices and reducing availability even further.
We want to say that we appreciate and sympathise with how frustrating this is as a patient.
We can understand that many people’s instinctive reaction is to blame dentists for refusing to take on new patients, or for going private altogether.
This is understandable, however, the majority of dentists are not part of the NHS in the way that hospitals are. They are privately owned businesses (LTD companies or partnerships) that claim reimbursement for treatments provided under the NHS.
Losing access to an NHS dentist is not what anyone had in mind when they were called on to make personal sacrifices during the pandemic, and we share that sense of frustration. Obviously we cannot speak for all dentists, but all the professionals we know are deeply unhappy with this situation too.
We hope that this goes some way to explaining the situation we find ourselves in. It is deeply regrettable, but unfortunately completely outwith our control, and we sincerely hope that a solution is found soon.
Thank you for reading.