No clear picture of the number of people waiting for dental treatment – Senedd report

Published 15/02/2023   |   Last Updated 15/02/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

The true scale of the dentistry crisis in Wales is unknown, with no clear picture of how many people are currently waiting to see an NHS dentist.

This means that support cannot be targeted in the right place to tackle the backlog – this is the warning from the Senedd Health and Social Care Committee report on dentistry, published today (Wednesday, 15 February 2023).

While COVID-19 inevitably had a severe impact on access to NHS dentistry, the report found there were long-standing issues prior to the pandemic.

Russell George MS, Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, says perhaps it’s time for radical reform:

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on access to NHS dentistry in Wales and we shouldn’t underestimate the negative effect it had on the workforce.

“But this report shows that these issues were a real problem even before Covid-19 – witnesses told us of historic underfunding over the last decade.

“Many people talk of a two tier system, where those who can afford to pay for private treatment do so. But are we in fact in danger of creating a three tier system? Where those who can’t register with an NHS dentist but can’t afford to pay privately are left with no access, and can only rely on emergency dental service.

“The cost of living crisis is likely to make this problem worse, and result in more inequalities in how people access dental care.

“The Welsh Government’s latest contract reform has been broadly welcomed, but it is seen by some as merely tinkering round the edges when what is really needed is radical reform of the system.”

As part of its inquiry, the Committee asked people from across Wales for their experiences with seeking dental care.

Rhian Davies from Ammanford said her son had not seen a dentist in five years after the closure of her local NHS practice:

“We just had a letter that said our practice was closing – gave us options for 3 other practices but they are so far away, one is 40 miles away.

“My child hasn’t seen anyone in a long time –he is 15 now and he hasn’t seen anyone for 5 years. Because he was not classed as an emergency then no one would look at him.

“We are a family of four and I don’t really want to go private but we are left with no choice.”

The report calls for Welsh Government to explore if current levels of funding are sufficient to tackle the backlog, and to consider a single centralised waiting list across Wales, with health boards to implement their own interim central waiting lists by the end of 2023.

The full report is available here: Dentistry report - English.pdf