Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Dental provision falling short locally

January 17, 2013 6:52 AM

Last week the Welsh Liberal Democrats Leader, Kirsty Williams, strongly criticised the Welsh Government after figures on the NHS Direct website revealed that many dental practices across Wales are not accepting new NHS patients, whilst in some areas it is virtually impossible to register as an NHS patient with a local dentist at all.

In 2006, the Welsh Labour Government set a 100% target for everyone in Wales to have access to an NHS dentist. Only last year the First Minister claimed that he stood by this target, but the Health Minister has since described it as 'unrealistic'.

The NHS Direct website offers a health advice service that is available to people so they can get up to date information about the NHS services that are on offer in their local area.

When I looked on this site recently I discovered that only five of the 19 dental practices in the Bridgend area are accepting new NHS patients. In the rest of my region the situation is worse. It is unbelievable for example that out of the 40 or so dentists in Swansea and Gower, not a single one is accepting new NHS patients.

None of the dental practices in Neath Port Talbot are accepting new NHS patients either. That means that Bridgend residents are competing with patients from the west to register with the few available practices for regular dental treatment.

These figures make a complete mockery out of the Welsh Labour Government's ambition for everyone in Wales to have access to an NHS dentist. And yet they do not see the problem.

The First Minister's response to Kirsty Williams in the Assembly chamber was curt. He said: "It is for those who wish to have access to NHS dentistry to get it." When pressed further, he added: "the Member has failed to supply any evidence that people cannot access NHS dentists. All she has done is talk about practices offering services. Unless she comes up with figures to suggest that people cannot access NHS services, her three points carry no weight."

We did not have to wait long for further examples. Within minutes, people from around Wales were contacting us by e-mail, on Twitter and on Facebook to outline their own problems in accessing dental services.

Just stating that everyone should have access to a dentist isn't enough, there has to be action too. The Welsh Liberal Democrat Dentistry Survey last year highlighted that it is far easier for patients to access private dentists. Labour has presided over a dentistry service that penalises people depending on their income and where they live. Under Labour, dentistry in Wales is a far from universal service.