PEOPLE in the Thornbury area currently face a 37-mile trip to reach the nearest dentist accepting new adult NHS patients.
As of January 31 the closest practice currently open to new adult patients on the NHS Find a Dentist website was in Marlborough, Wiltshire, closely followed by a practice in Malvern, Worcestershire.
For children aged 17 and under, the nearest practice open to new NHS patients was almost 12 miles away, in Oldland Common, near Warmley. The same practice was offering places to adults entitled to free NHS dental care.
Three dentists within ten miles of Thornbury, including one in the town itself, will treat patients on the NHS only if they have been referred for specialist dental care.
A spokesperson for NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board, which is responsible for NHS services in the area, said: “We are aware that access to NHS dentistry in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire is challenging and we are working hard to try and improve the situation for local people.
“We continue to engage extensively with local dental clinicians, their representatives and partners, as part of a wider South West Dental Reform programme, to encourage and support them to continue to provide services for NHS patients.”
The ICB said people with an urgent dental need could call 111 to access one of 64 appointments available each week.
‘Access crisis’ down to NHS contract
The profession’s official body, the British Dental Association, says the “access crisis” facing the area is typical of the situation around the country.
It blames the “long discredited” NHS dental contract, first introduced in 2006, which has led to severe recruitment and retention problems.
Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee recommended in July last year that it should be reformed, after carrying out an inquiry.
But the BDA said it was still waiting for the government to publish its recovery plan and said it had “singularly failed to show it shares the aspirations of the Committee”.
BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said: “The Government claim they want access for all but appear unwilling to make any commitments that could actually achieve that.
“We’ve heard big ambitions but no action, and our patients will continue paying the price.”
A recent national survey carried out for The Times found more than half of children in South Gloucestershire had not seen a dentist in the past year, and that tooth problems were now the most common cause of hospital visits among children.
Only 39% of the area’s adults had seen a dentist in the past two years, the newspaper found.