New contracts for dentists have been an failure, ministers were told yesterday as new figures showed the number of people seeing a dentist had slumped by nearly a million since they were introduced.
A report by the NHS showed that 881,000 fewer people visited a dentist in 2006 and 2007 than in the two years before the contentious new contract was introduced in March 2006.
Overall, 27.3 million people saw an NHS dentist in 2006 and 2007, compared with 28.1 million in the two years to March 2006.
The figures also revealed sharp variations across the country. The proportion of adults who saw a dentist in the past two years varied between 58.3 per cent in the North East Strategic Health Authority, but fell to just 38.9 per cent in the South Central health area.
Overall, just under half of all adults had seen a dentist in the past two years, while slightly less than 70 per cent of children had been seen over the same period.
Ministers insisted that NHS dentistry was expanding but Mike Penning, a shadow Health minister, said that 338,000 people had lost access to NHS dentistry in the last three months of last year, the equivalent of 3,674 people a day. Mr Penning said: "These figures are yet another damning indictment of Labour's appalling management of NHS dentistry."
Under the reforms, responsibility for funding was given to local primary care trusts. But the system has been dogged by criticism of the "units of dental activity" used to determine dentists' pay.
Peter Ward, the chief executive of the British Dental Association, said: "These figures offer fresh evidence that the reforms have failed... They've failed to improve access to care and failed to allow dentists to provide the modern, preventive care they want to deliver."