We are facing a NHS dentistry crisis, as more than a million new UK patients were turned away by NHS dentists last year, on top of 700,000 who could not get an appointment with their usual surgery.
Research has shown that three quarters of practices had trouble filling dentist vacancies last year and six out of ten dentists say that they plan to leave the profession or cut back on their NHS work in the next five years.
Recent research by the British Dental Association highlighted 13 towns and cities where no dental practices were registering new adult patients, including Plymouth and Barrow-in-Furness.
Earlier this month, the closure of three dentist surgeries in Portsmouth left up to 20,000 people without access to care, and with no availability for new NHS dental patients in the area.
The decision to close three practices in the city means there are now no places available for new patients in Portsmouth. According to the NHS Digital website, the nearest spaces available are a ferry ride away in Gosport or a half-hour drive away in Havant.
One patient told the Huffington Post: “I received a letter saying that I would be provided ongoing care at another surgery but when I contacted them I was told all they could do was put me on a waiting list and 20,000 patients were affected by the closures.
BDA research also found that patients in Cornwall face 65-mile trek to visit an NHS dentist. The research shows that the nearest practice taking new adult NHS patients for people in Bodmin is Redruth, a trip would take approximately over three hours by public transport.
Furthermore, only one in six dental practices in Wales are offering treatment to new adult patients on the NHS. One practice in the Cardiff and Vale health board area said they received more than 60 calls a day from would-be patients.
Official data has shown over 1 million new adult patients tried and failed to secure access to NHS dental services last year.
Figures from a national survey of practice owners indicate 75% of NHS practice owners in England struggled to fill vacancies last year – rising to 84% among those with the highest NHS commitments.
The BDA said that “years of underfunding and failed contracts have taken their toll”, leaving practices struggling to recruit staff, and communities from Devon to Cumbria having difficulty getting access to dental care.
A BDA spokesperson said: “The recruitment crisis is having major knock-on effects on patient access, with official sites now directing patients to undertake epic journeys to get an appointment. The NHS website is currently pointing new adult patients in Barrow-in-Furness to the nearest available practice in Whitehaven, a round trip of 90 miles by road.
“Patients across the South West are badly affected, with those in Bodmin facing 65 mile and Plymouth nearly 60-mile round trips.”