Healthwatch feedback contributes to reform of NHS dentistry

July 20, 2022


  • Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Healthwatch teams in Sussex have seen an increase in the proportion of people telling us they have found it hard to access NHS dentists.  
  • Hundreds of people have spoken out about their poor experiences.
  • Healthwatch teams across Sussex have been listening and raising their concerns. 
  • Today, those concerns have finally been listened to with reforms announced (on 19th July) to dental NHS contracts that should improve access.  

Healthwatch teams across Sussex have seen a vast increase in the number of people coming to us for help to find a dental practice who is offering NHS treatment. In East Sussex, dentistry related enquiries became the most common reason people contacted us in 2021-22.  

Some issues which existed before coronavirus were worsened by the pandemic and health inequalities have simply widened. Dentists were unable to see patients for many months and large backlogs built up as a result. People also told us that: 

  • They were waiting longer for care unless they were prepared to pay for private treatment. 
  • Some NHS dental practices had gone fully private. 
  • They had been taken off their dentist NHS ‘lists’ because they had been unable to visit them during the pandemic. 
  • They were receiving unclear advice about where to get help or which dentists are taking on NHS patients, and  
  • They were being left in pain. 

Healthwatch worked with Local Dental Committees and dentists to raise people’s concerns and to be able to offer the right information to the public, but also to understand the pressures that dentists were working under. We raised concerns with NHS England, local Health and Wellbeing Boards, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Healthwatch England who undertook a national campaign to get things changed.  


What will change? 

That work has paid off. NHS England has announced changes (on 19th July) to the NHS dental contract – the first in 16 years. These mean that:  

  • NHS dentists will be paid more for treating more complex cases, such as people who need three fillings or more.
  • Dental therapists will also be able to accept patients for NHS treatments, providing fillings, sealants, preventative care for adults and children, which will free up dentists’ time for urgent and complex cases.
  • Dentists must update the NHS website and directory of services so patients can easily find the availability of dentists in their local area.
  • High-performing dental practices will have the opportunity to increase their activity by a further 10% and to see as many patients as possible. 


Healthwatch in Sussex said today: 

“We welcome the announcement today as first steps for long overdue reforms to the NHS contract governing NHS dentistry which we hope will make it easier for people to find a dentist. We have been hearing from hundreds of patients about their poor experiences, with many being left in pain or simply unable to afford essential care. We have listened and worked with local dentists, MPs and others to escalate people’s voices.  

We will be monitoring their impact and will be discussing them with the newly formed Integrated Care System who have taken on responsibility for dental commissioning across our region. We therefore encourage people to continue to share their dental stories with us.” 


Healthwatch England said today: 

“Thousands of patients have spoken up about their struggles accessing an NHS dentist over the last few years. This announcement shows the power of their voices, with the NHS listening and taking action. 

“The changes should mean it is easier for people to find a dentist taking on new NHS patients. Those with more complex dental problems will also be better able to access care because of the shift in how the NHS pays dentists. Ultimately, we hope these combined measures will end long waiting times, the extended periods of pain many people suffer, and the extreme cases of DIY dentistry we have seen. 

“However, these reforms need to be just the start if we are to create an NHS that is able to deliver good dental care for all.” 


Healthwatch in Sussex 

As the public champion for local health and care services, Healthwatch in Sussex will continue to work in partnership with commissioners and providers to monitor the experiences of patients and the public in accessing health and care services locally and explore how ongoing improvements may be delivered. 

Healthwatch in Sussex is a collaboration between the three Healthwatch covering Brighton & Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex 


Contact Us 

For media enquiries in East Sussex please contact John Routledge, Executive Director, Healthwatch East Sussex, on 07794 100 291 or via 

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