Access to NHS Dentistry has been an ongoing issue for Healthwatch Bradford; month after month the question of how to get an NHS dentist is the most common topic for our public enquiries. Throughout this time we have provided NHS England (who commission dentists) with regular information and feedback on issues faced by patients in our area.
Bradford District has significantly poorer levels of oral health than the national or regional averages, coupled with low levels of access to NHS dentists. Our Board felt that this was an important issue and decided that access to NHS dentistry should be a key priority for Healthwatch Bradford. We planned a project to raise the profile of the issue to a level where it would be taken seriously by commissioners.
Healthwatch Bradford developed a public survey and spoke to over 1,000 people in January & February 2016.
- 43% of adults did not have access to an NHS dentist
- 30% of under 18s did not have access to an NHS dentist
Nearly half of people without a dentist said the reason they didn't have a dentist was that they couldn't find one taking NHS patients. We focused our outreach in the most deprived areas of Bradford where levels of oral health are worst and access to NHS dentists is hardest. We worked with local children's centres, community groups, mosques and businesses. We also talked to the public at local transport hubs, shopping centres, hospitals etc. and heavily promoted the survey in e-bulletins, websites and social media accounts.
We secured strong local media coverage for the survey which boosted the public response and raised profile. One of the survey sessions at a children's centre in Bradford was featured on BBC Look North (broadcast Feb 2nd) and the Telegraph & Argus ran several stories promoting the survey and featuring case studies which illustrated the issue. Healthwatch briefed local MPs on the issue to secure their support: Judith Cummins MP for Bradford South, asked a question about access to dentists in Prime Ministers Question Time in January 2016 and secured a ministerial meeting to discuss the issue. Phillip Davies MP for Shipley has also raised the issue in the Commons in May 2016.
We have worked alongside our colleagues in Healthwatch Kirklees to participate in the NHS England task and finish group – which was set up to improve access to NHS dentists, partly in response to our repeated questions and challenges on the issue. We have met regularly to discuss and jointly plan our input to this group to ensure public voice influences commissioning decisions effectively. We have worked with the secretary of the Local Dental Committee to understand the professional perspective and gain their support and insight for changes in commissioning which would improve the experience of patients.
Recently, NHS England has developed a plan for a pilot programme which will see 12 practices in Bradford, opening up appointments to new patients who are in pain and in need of treatment. Each practice will open for 1 hour per day, seeing 4 clients per session - 240 new patients per week across Bradford District.
The impact of our collaborative work was recognised when the team won a national award for our work on access to NHS dentists at the Healthwatch England Conference in June 2016.