Three problems people shared
Everyone should be able to access good quality NHS dental services. However, the experiences people have shared with local Healthwatch tells us that there are still problems in some areas.
Problems accessing NHS dental care
We learnt that in some parts of the country, people still can have trouble getting appointments with NHS dentists. We also heard that there are real gaps in provision for particular groups, such as those in care homes, people with disabilities, refugees and people who are homeless.
In some instances, commissioning arrangements for dentistry are not keeping up with changes in demand, leaving people without access to the dental care they need. Local Healthwatch are well placed to work with NHS England and other relevant bodies to identify where such gaps exist to help ensure people can go to the dentist when they need to.
Lack of consistent guidance and information
Mixed information given to patients about how frequently they should go to the dentist means that some people could be going too often, and others not often enough. 62% of people in our poll who had visited an NHS or private dentist were advised to go back within six months, and a further 20% were advised to return in a year.
However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says that for adults with healthy mouths and teeth, a visit once every two years is enough. Better information for patients could help free up appointments for people who need them more, and save time and money for people who have healthy teeth and gums.
Difficulties making a complaint when things go wrong
It’s vital that all parts of health and social care learn from people’s experiences – both good and bad. We found that some dental practices are not sharing adequate information about how people can go about making a complaint about their service, meaning that opportunities to improve are being missed. Healthwatch Hampshire found that fewer than half of NHS contracted dental practices across the county had information on their website about complaints.
With overlapping responsibilities for different kinds of complaint, and most high street dentists providing both NHS and private treatment, it’s not surprising that some professionals find the system confusing too. We’re therefore working together to try and improve everybody’s understanding.
A new NHS dental contract is being developed that will focus on helping people look after their teeth to avoid problems in the future. However, we believe there is much that could be done to improve people’s experiences now.