Changes to dentist website criticised

CHANGES to the website showing which dentists have places available for NHS patients have been criticised by the leader of the profession’s representative body.

The Voice reported earlier this year that people in the Downend area faced a 20-mile trip, to Westbury in Wiltshire, to reach the nearest dentist accepting new adult NHS patients.

For children aged 17 and under, the nearest practice open to new NHS patients on the NHS Find a Dentist website was more than nine miles away, in Bath. Another seven dentists within five miles of Downend said they would treat NHS patients given a referral for specialist dental care.

Since then the website has changed the way it lists dental practices: instead of stating whether they are accepting patients or not, it says “when availability allows, this dentist accepts new NHS patients”.

The change means that, as of June 16, ten practices within five miles of Downend were listed as accepting NHS patients subject to availability, including one in Staple Hill.

But the site no longer indicates whether any places are actually available at the time patients search it.

The Voice asked NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care why the change was made, and whether there is any way for patients to find out which practices are taking on NHS patients other than contacting each practice individually.

We also asked if practices were still reporting, to either NHS England or their local integrated care board, when they have places available for new NHS patients.

In response the DHSC said: “The website was updated in April to make it easier for members of the public to identify practices that might be able to accept new NHS patients.”

However the department did not say whether practices were still reporting whether they had NHS places available, even though it said the website provided “operational information at the current point in time to show where an individual can find an NHS dentist”.

The changes were made after the announcement of a ‘recovery plan’ aimed at increasing access and funding millions of extra appointments and treatments nationally, which included an announcement by ministers that 500 more practices were taking on new NHS patients.

But the changes were criticised by the chair of the British Dental Association, Eddie Crouch, who said: “They like to talk about how 500 more practices are now taking on new NHS patients.

“They are sidestepping the fact that they’ve just changed the definition of access from a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’,  to taking on new patients ‘when capacity allows’.”

Writing in a blog reflecting that dentistry was now “at the forefront of voter concerns”, he said: “We’ve called on all parties to offer real urgency and ambition to save the service and put a halt to widening inequalities.”

Earlier this year the NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board, which is responsible for NHS services in the area, said access to NHS dentistry in the area was “challenging”.

The ICB said people with an urgent dental need could call 111 to access one of 64 appointments available each week.