The number of people able to see an NHS dentist in Cornwall has fallen by more than 30,000 in just six months. New figures have been published which show the lack of NHS dental services in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
They show that the total number of adults with access to an NHS dentist dropped from 188,800 in June 2021 to 155,985 in December 2021. That is a change from 40.8 per cent of the population to 33.5 per cent of the population and is lower than the access rate for England as a whole of 35.5 per cent.
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However, while the number of adults with access to NHS dental services has fallen the number of children in Cornwall who have seen a dentist in the past 12 months as increased from 34,572 (31.8 per cent) in June 2021 to 44,695 (40.9 per cent) in December 2021. This is an increase of 29.3 per cent over those six months.
Yet while the number of children seeing a dentist in Cornwall has risen it is still lower than the England average of 42.5 per cent. The latest statistics on dental treatment in Cornwall are set to be presented at a meeting of Cornwall Council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday (June 8).
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They also set out how many dental treatments are commissioned by NHS England in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. There are 65 practices in Cornwall which provide general dental services.
In 2019/20 NHS England commissioned 749,370 units of dental activity (UDAs) from those practices with a value of £23.7million. UDAs can cover everything from check-ups and X-rays to fillings and crowns. However, despite commissioning 749,370 UDAs from practices in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly a large number were not delivered due to staff shortages.
The report states: “This figure included a number of recurrent and non-recurrent reductions which were made to contracts at the request of providers due largely to the number of vacancies for dentists in practices across the county. In 2019/20 this meant that 109,626 UDAs were unable to be delivered.”
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In 2020/21 NHS England commissioned 900,838 UDAs at a cost of almost £30.1m; and in 2021/22 825,173 UDAs were commissioned worth £29.6m. However due to Covid-19 impacting on dental services in 20/21 just 24 per cent of UDAs were delivered and in 21/22 it rose to 59 per cent.
The report also shows the number of people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly waiting for an NHS dentist. In February 2022 there were 37,059 on the waiting list. It shows that between January 2021 and February 2022 4,604 more people were added to the waiting list while in that same period 1,183 were allocated a dentist.
One of the key issues facing dental services in Cornwall is attracting dentists into the Duchy and retaining them. The report states: “The key issue affecting access to NHS dentistry is workforce. A shortage of dentists in Cornwall affects the ability of high street practices to deliver their contracts.
“The reasons for this are not necessarily different to those affecting other sectors of the health and social care system. Cornwall is viewed as a lifestyle choice by both the medical and dental profession and younger clinical professionals tend to favour larger cities with greater transport links and more training opportunities.”
To help improve access to dental care the NHS is looking to hold a south west recruitment day and work with dental providers to see what can be done to maximise contracts. The NHS is also looking to reinvest funding that has not been spent on contracted dental activity elsewhere.
In addition it is looking to ensure that once places become available they are allocated to people on the waiting list and to meet areas of demand there are plans for a local dental network to connect dentists, public health and the dental school.
The report will be considered by Cornwall Council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee when it meets on Wednesday.