How easy is it to find out which NHS dentist in your area can give you an appointment? We’ve found that getting accurate information can be a real struggle.
When I needed to see a dentist urgently, following an accident, a couple of years ago, I looked first on NHS Choices, the Government’s official NHS website, and got an appointment with a local dentist within a couple of days.
Turns out I was very lucky.
NHS Choices is the second most popular way that you try to find your dental options, we’ve found. But when in March we called 500 practices advertising NHS appointments on the site, a third told us they couldn’t offer us any NHS treatment whatsoever.
Frustratingly difficult to find an NHS dentist appointment
We gave them another chance in May. Maybe a new NHS financial year would make it easier to get an appointment. But the problem was actually slightly worse – 37% of the 500 practices couldn’t give us an appointment. In many parts of England, you’d have to call at least three dentists before getting an NHS appointment.
Not what you want when toothache kicks in.
We also found problems with people being asked to pay non-refundable deposits before booking, long waiting lists of up to two years, and out-of-date practice websites. A number of people were also offered private care as a speedier (but more expensive) alternative.
Time to clean up their act
None of the problems we uncovered are new. The Office of Fair Trading investigated the dental sector in 2012 and made recommendations for it to clean up its act.
And our own investigation earlier this year discovered that many dentists are failing to explain treatment options and prices.
We think too little has been done in these areas, and in access to information. We’d like the Competition and Markets Authority to look into progress to date.
Have you used NHS Choices? Did it help you find a dentist with availability, or were you turned down?