The Director of Public Health in Cornwall has said that there has been a “market failure of quite staggering proportions” in NHS dentistry. Rachel Wigglesworth made the comments in response to a report which lays bare the difficulty people face to see an NHS dentist.
In a report which went to Cornwall Council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee yesterday it was stated that just over a third of adults and 40 per cent of children in Cornwall had been seen by an NHS dentist in the last year.
It was also revealed that whilst the NHS had commissioned more than 900,000 treatments in 2020/21 only 24 per cent was delivered. That was due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic and in 2021/22 it had increased to 59 per cent.
Speaking at the committee meeting Rachel said that detailed figures showed that a third of 12-year-olds in Cornwall have no dentist and highlighted that reduced access to NHS dentists would increase pressure on emergency dental provision.
She said: “In terms of dental treatment and access it is a market failure of quite staggering proportions for Cornwall.”
Tessa Fielding, from NHS England which is responsible for commissioning NHS dental services in Cornwall, said that one of the current issues was that the contract process was not fit for purpose.
She said that whilst there were plans to reform dental contract arrangements she did not expect that it would improve the situation.
Rachel Wigglesworth said that if a new contract model was being introduced then it would be useful if there was consultation about the new proposals so that local organisations could have some say and help shape it so it would help.
She said that if there was a market failure in primary care services then there is a requirement for a GP to be put in place to meet the need, whilst she understood it was a different model for dental services that would be a way to ensure people do not lose out.
NHS Kernow said that it can only afford to pay for dental services which would provide for half of the population of Cornwall, which the director of public health described as “shocking”.
Cornwall councillors told the committee of cases in their areas where people were struggling to find a dentist or access NHS dental treatment. Armand Toms from Looe said that there was now just one dentist in the town to provide dental care for 5,300 people and said it was “more than one person can handle”.
The committee heard that there are problems with recruiting and retaining dentists in Cornwall to provide NHS services and said that more work was being done to try and encourage newly qualified dentists to move to the area.