In January 2023, the three Sussex Healthwatch undertook a short poll to gather people’s recent experiences of accessing NHS dentistry.
60% of patients we heard from told Healthwatch they are not confident about their ability to access NHS dental services over the next 12 months
Healthwatch in Sussex (Brighton & Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex) have been collaborating over the last two years to develop a Sussex-wide understanding of people’s experiences of accessing or seeking to access dentistry, especially NHS services.
Following announcements by the government and NHS of changes to support improvements in dentistry provision announced in November 2022, we wanted to learn whether these changes had led to any change in the experiences of patients and the public in their ability to access NHS dental services when they needed them.
Our aims were to:
- Determine levels of public satisfaction with local NHS dental services, including accessibility and wait times, information quality and availability, and quality of services.
- Assess current and future levels of public confidence in accessing NHS dental services
- Identify any barriers that may or have limited people’s ability to access NHS dental services
To do this, we launched a short dental survey which ran from 1st and 31st January 2023. We also carried out a review of the NHS Find A Dentist webpage.
What changes were implemented in November 2022?
A new package of measures to improve patient access to dental care has been introduced by the government.
- All NHS dentists are to receive fairer payments for providing more complex dental care to those who need it most.
- Dentists will be required to update the NHS website regularly to make it clear which practices are taking on new patients and the services available, improving access for patients.
- This will ensure the system better supports all dentists and their teams while also providing better value for money dental care for patients.
What did people in Sussex tell us?
220 people responded to our survey. It was pleasing to hear that nearly a third of people were satisfied/very satisfied (29.5%) with the treatment they received when they were able to access it and that one in four (25.5%) accessed NHS dental treatment without any issues. One in four (25%) people also said that they were confident about their ability to access NHS dental services over the next 12 months.
Of concern to Healthwatch is:
- Most people (62.3%) were not confident about their ability to access NHS dental services over the next 12 months, either for themselves or others.
- Nearly half of the people we heard from (45%) told us they were dissatisfied/very dissatisfied about their ability to find a dentist offering NHS treatments.
- More than two-in-five (41.8%) were dissatisfied/very dissatisfied with the waiting times to see someone.
- Over a third of respondents (35.9%) were dissatisfied/very dissatisfied with information on services being accurate and up-to-date.
- Nearly one-in-fourteen people (6.8%) needed dental treatment but were unable to afford to pay the NHS dental charges.
- Approximately one-fifth of people (21.8%) told us they had paid for treatment privately because they had been unable to find or access a dentist able to provide NHS treatment.
Results from our review of the NHS find a dentist website
Dentists are now required to update the NHS website regularly to make it clear which practices are taking on new patients and the services available, improving access. We carried out a review of this website to see how many practices had updated their web pages and which had indicated they were accepted adult and/or children patients for NHS treatments.
Our results were worrying. We found that across Sussex, in January 2023, out of 320 listed dental practice /practitioner entries (provided to us by NHS Sussex), 68% did not appear have updated their details, with some having very historical updates. We found just 21 practices had updates to say their were taking on NHS adult patients, and 36 were taking on children.
What are Healthwatch doing with this latest research?
- We will be sharing it with Healthwatch England who have been collating feedback from local Healthwatch teams across England to deliver campaigns that are designed to improve NHS dental provision.
- We will share with our local Heath and Wellbeing Boards and Health and Overview Scrutiny Committees, two important bodies which monitor the provision of health and social care, and hold providers to account.
- We will share will local MPs so that they can use this evidence to raise patient concerns in Parliament.
- We will share this with those responsible for ensuring NHS dental provision happens across Sussex and challenge them to act upon it as they develop their plans. Importantly, Healthwatch sits on a Sussex-wide working group which will help develop these plans.
- We will also continue to gather your experiences – good and bad – about dentistry.