The UK's regional Scottish Government recently announced an unprecedented higher level of public access to National Health Service dentists. Figures indicate that substantially more people are now registered with an NHS dentist, including 94% of all children aged 6 to 12 yrs. old and a million extra residents in Scotland.
Research by staff from Bath University and the Brent NHS Primary Care Trust confirmed in 2004 that NHS dentists were in short supply despite an increase in dental recruitment with rural and 'deprived' communities found to be disproportionately affected by a general shortage of practising NHS dentists. It was found that England and Wales had less than one practising NHS dentist for every 1,000 people and less than a third of the population had access to the service.
The new figures showed that in December 2010, 69% of adults and 83% of children were registered, with the figure for Scotland being higher at an average of 72%, including 86% of three to five year olds and 94% of six to twelve year olds. Susie Sanderson, the Chairman of the British Dental Association welcomed the figures as representing 'good news for the patients who are benefiting from the improvement'.
Critics claim that whilst the figures describe a positive trend, more needs to be done to allow rural populations better access to NHS dental treatment. Liberal Democrat Health Spokesman Jamie Stone pointed to "an urban-rural divide", with the more rural regions of Scotland and the remote Scottish highlands being at a disadvantage. The statistics gave examples such as 50% of people in Grampian registered with an NHS dentist, compared to 77% in Ayrshire and Arran, home to Glasgow city.
The Government's Minister of State for Health Simon Burns announced a new pilot scheme for NHS dentistry in December last year. It will test three different NHS dentist contract models in 50 to 60 locations throughout the UK. The pilot aims to gather data including registration numbers and quality of care issues. Mr Burns confirmed the data will be analysed before drafting the new legislation and contracts to replace the nationwide NHS dentist contracts introduced in 2006.
The Department of Health states the scheme will also particularly focus on children's oral health, alongside ways to generally increase access to NHS dentists and improve patient care. Susie Sanderson cautiously welcomed the reforms, and said it was crucial they should be more successful than those of 2006.