Survey shows severe lack of NHS dentists  

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The disappearing NHS dentist is highlighted today by a survey showing two out of five dental surgeries are accepting only private patients.

The disappearing NHS dentist is highlighted today by a survey showing two out of five dental surgeries are accepting only private patients.

The survey, by the magazine Health Which?, suggests the Government has failed to honour its pledge made two years ago that every patient would have access to an NHS dentist by September 2001. Researchers from the magazine, published by the Consumers' Association, made 730 calls to dental surgeries across Britain in June. They found NHS dentists taking on new patients were scarcest in Cornwall, Shropshire and Inverness.

The NHS Direct helpline suggested to the Shropshire researcher that a dentist might be available in Wales. In Bournemouth the researcher was referred to Scoot, a telephone directory service, which was unable to say which dentists were accepting NHS patients.

NHS Direct is supposed to give details of dentists taking NHS patients, but of 20 calls to the service it was able to provide details of an NHS dentist in only seven cases.

Of the surgeries contacted 40 per cent were not taking on new NHS patients. Almost a quarter were taking on only private patients while the remainder had full lists and were not accepting new patients.

Kaye McIntosh, editor of Health Which?, said the research showed the Government was underestimating the shortage of NHS dentistry.

The Department of Health said the position had improved since the survey was done three months ago. Dame Margaret Seward, chief dental officer, said: "We are aware that there are some areas where it is difficult to gain access to an NHS dentist. That is why from today everyone will be able to see an NHS dentist simply by calling NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. Any relevant evaluation of how the system is performing must be made over the coming months."

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