Reading people struggle to get NHS dental care

We contacted 14 dental practices to see if they were taking on new patients or seeing urgent cases.
Photo of dental equipment by

Only one dental surgery in Reading says it will see emergency patients and none are taking on new NHS patients, according to research by Healthwatch Reading.

We phoned 14 local dental surgeries on 13 January 2022 after being inundated with calls and emails from members of the public seeking our help to find an NHS dentist.

Our findings

  • 14 out of 14 dental practices aren’t taking on new NHS patients
  • 13 out of 14 practices are still seeing private patients
  • 13 out of 14 practices aren’t providing one-off emergency appointments
  • 12 out of 14 practices aren’t sure when they’ll be able to start seeing new NHS patients

*Phone poll of dental practices on 13 January 2022

Our research showed that only Friar Street Dental Practice in the town centre said it would see a person with an emergency dental problem as a one-off.  Inspire Dental on Oxford Rd had just stopped offering one-off emergency care.

All 14 dental practices said they were not currently taking on new NHS patients but 13 out of 14 were still seeing private patients.

Most dental practices (12) didn’t know when they would start seeing new NHS patients, apart from University Dental Centre in Northcourt Avenue, which said it would start seeing new NHS patients in February and Castle Hill Dental Care in Tilehurst, after April.

Healthwatch Reading chief executive Mandeep Kaur Bains said: “Every day we are contacted by Reading people frustrated about not being able to see an NHS dentist. Many local people are struggling with the high costs of living and tell us they can’t afford to go private."

“While we understand that the Covid pandemic has hit dentistry hard, we’re concerned that people with the most urgent and painful problems, are struggling to get timely help.”
— Mandeep Kaur Bains, chief executive, Healthwatch Reading

Some of the Reading people who’ve contacted us were unaware that NHS dentists do not operate in the same way as GPs (which offer indefinite access to appointments after registering). Dentists are not obliged to keep seeing you, especially if you haven’t gone for regular check-ups in the past.

Our national body, Healthwatch England, said in December 2021 that four out of five people were struggling to access NHS dental care. It has been lobbying NHS England to fix problems.

We have raised the local problems with NHSE officials.

On 25 January 2022, NHSE announced £50m to provide up to 350,000 extra dental appointments across England. Of this funding, the South East will get £6,887,000.

Response from NHS England, 26 January 2022

'Dental practices are still operating at below 100% capacity due to the safety requirements supporting delivery of care. Capacity has been increasing over the last year and is subject to further review from 1st April 2022. This does mean practices are still having to prioritise patients with a particular focus with an urgent treatment need. The capacity in the dental system has been reduced for nearly two years and a backlog of patients has built up and this includes those in need of urgent treatment (normally defined as pain, swelling or bleeding). We do have a number of practices who provide Additional Access sessions to support local systems.

'Access is a nationwide issue and you may be aware that the NHS has just announced the allocation of an additional £50m for Dentists to provide additional hours to treat patients with an urgent need in the period up to 31st March 2022. We are in the process of approaching practices to see if they wish to take part in this scheme. We hope that this will help to alleviate the pressure over the few months and we believe there are plans to increase capacity from 1st April, but this remains under review due to the on-going impact of the coronavirus pandemic.'

Please see further information attached:

NHS England Impact of Covid-19 on Access to Dental Services

Need urgent dental care now?

If a local dentist won't see you, phone NHS 111, as they have the ability to make referrals to urgent dental centres.

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