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22,000 people waiting for an NHS dentist in Cornwall

22,000 people waiting for an NHS dentist in Cornwall

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 7:00am 14th July 2019.

By Richard Whitehouse, Local Democracy Reporter

The number of people waiting to access NHS dental services in Cornwall has topped 22,000 with people waiting on average 529 days.

NHS England revealed the latest figures for dentist waiting lists at a meeting of Cornwall Council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee yesterday.

However health officials also explained that the number of procedures commissioned from dentists would be enough to tackle the waiting list three times over.

But continued problems with recruiting and retaining staff have meant that dentists have been unable to fulfill the contract.

In 2018/19 NHS England commissioned 915,285 units of dental activity (UDAs) from 72 dental service providers in Cornwall.

Yet the number of UDAs delivered in that time was 709,615 – a shortfall of 205,670.

NHS England said in a report to councillors: “For planning purposes, we allow for three UDAs per patient per annum. If all contracted activity had been carried out it is estimated that 68,556 additional patients would have been able to access an NHS dentist in Cornwall. This is three times as many people as are currently on the waiting list in Cornwall for NHS dentistry.”

The report added that money is reclaimed from practices that underperform on their contracts.

teeth dentist

In Devon and Cornwall a dedicated helpline has been set up to help people find an NHS dentist and/or urgent treatment. It is the only helpline of its kind in England.

NHS England said: “Practices are encouraged to point prospective new patients towards the helpline so they can be added to a central waiting list rather than being taken on directly. As a result people are sometimes under the impression that no practices are taking on new NHS patients. This is not correct.

“Instead patients are allocated in batches as capacity becomes available, so those who have waited longest get priority. People who are prepared to travel further are likely to be found a place sooner that those who are not.”

The number of people being added to the waiting list has been climbing over the past 12 months along with the average wait.

In April 2018 1,124 patients were added to the waiting list in that month while 911 were allocated a dentist and the total waiting list stood at 18,047. The average waiting time for the patients allocated a dentist that month was 433 days.

But jump forward to March 2019 when there were 1,155 people added to the list, 761 were allocated a dentist and the total waiting list was 22,062. The average waiting time for people allocated a dentist was 529.

Overall the number of people added to the list from April 2018 to March 2019 was 14,900 and in the same period 11,918 were placed with a dentist.


Figures have also been provided for the different areas of Cornwall – divided by the former district council boundaries:

The highest number of people waiting for an NHS dentist are in Restormel – covering St Austell, Newquay, Fowey, Lostwithiel, St Blazey and St Columb – with 4,722 on the list.

In Carrick – Truro, Falmouth, Penryn, Perranporth and surrounding areas – there were 4,152 and in Kerrier – Camborne, Redruth and Helston – there were 3,975.

Penwith – covering Hayle, Penzance and St Ives – has 3,243 on the waiting list and Caradon – Liskeard, Looe, Callington, Saltash and Torpoint – has 3,169.

The lowest number is in North Cornwall – covering Bodmin, Wadebridge, Padstow, Camelford and Bude – with 2,801.

Between April 2018 and March 2019 the dental helpline received 24,000 calls from people looking for an NHS dentist.


In a sample month they have provided details of the reasons for contact: 29.7% had not seen an NHS dentist for more than two years; 26.8% had recently moved to the area; 20.2% had been deregistered by an NHS dentist; 7.4% had an NHS dentist but wanted to change to a different one and 3.9% were with a private practice but wanted an NHS dentist. The reasons for another 12% were not included.

NHS England said that if practices had been able to fulfil their contracts “there would have been sufficient capacity not just to eliminate the waiting list but to offer care to around 45,000 additional patients”.

It said it does not know the size of the shortfall of dentists in Cornwall but has estimated it to be around 30 full-time dentists.

The report adds: “The reasons for the unwillingness of dentists to come to Cornwall are not necessarily different to those affecting other sectors of the health and social care system. Cornwall is viewed as a lifestyle choice by both the medical and dental profession and, due to the poor transport links and limited training opportunities, the younger generation often tend to favour the larger cities.”

To improve the situation NHS England is looking to support recruitment and is planning a recruitment open day to try to attract more dentists to Cornwall.

It is also working with dental providers to ensure existing contracts are delivering to their maximum potential and are looking to commission extra NHS work from practices that have capacity.

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