The number of dentists treating NHS patients has fallen to the lowest level in a decade, official figures reveal. Some 23,577 performed health service work in 2022/23 – down from 24,272 the previous year.
This was the lowest since 2012/13, when the figure was 23,201. The data was released by the NHS Business Services Authority following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously pointed to figures for 2021/22 – which showed an increase of more than 500 dentists from the previous year – as evidence that services were getting back on track.
However, the British Dental Association said the data showed the exodus was in fact accelerating.
It called for an urgent rescue package to halt the flow of staff turning to lucrative work in private practice.
Shawn Charlwood, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: “Government needs to drop the spin, accept the facts, and provide a rescue package to keep this service afloat.
“NHS dentistry is haemorrhaging talent, and further tweaks to a broken system will not stem the flow.” The Government announced changes to the NHS dentistry contract last year.
These included increasing the amount of units of dental activity (UDA) allocated for certain treatments and taking into account the time taken to treat high needs patients.
But the BDA claimed this amounted to “minor tweaks” that would not stabilise the service. The minimum UDA level of £23 rolled out in October was below the level required for most practices to cover costs or attract new dentists, it said.
The association is urging ministers to make use of “underspends” in the dental budget to increase the payout for each UDA completed by a practice.
It estimated in February that funds returned by practices not hitting their contractual targets would likely exceed £400million this year.
Mr Charlwood added: “The PM once called for this budget to be ring fenced. We face an access crisis.
“Ministers have a choice. They can help thousands of struggling practices fill vacancies and see patients, or just pass by on the other side.”