Debate on NHS Dentistry raises rural concerns

A debate in the House of Commons on 9th January raised concerns over the lack of NHS dentists available.

It cited a Nuffield Trust report into the State of NHS Dentistry which states that NHS funded dental services in England, ‘are in near terminal decline with nearly 6 million fewer courses of NHS dental treatment being provided last year than in the pre-pandemic year’.

Many MPs raised concerns faced by their constituents about the lack of access to NHS dentistry in their area, with Ashley Dalton MP stating that ‘in 2024 it is easier to get your hands on a Taylor Swift tickets than to get an NHS dental appointment!”

Selaine Saxby MP in North Devon shared her concerns in the debate:

“One of my concerns about the statistics used is that they compare dentists per 100,000 of population. As a very sparsely populated rural location, we might not look like as much of a dental desert as some other places, but at present the nearest dentist taking NHS patients is over 100 miles away.”

Sarah Dyke MP added:

“The shortage of dentists is a major issue that limits access to oral healthcare, especially for elderly residents who are at higher risk of dental decay and social isolation. There are specific challenges to rural dentistry provision, recruitment and retention. These need to be recognised because gaps in provision lead to gaps in teeth… I specifically want to see policies that address the lack of dentists in rural areas. Our communities are spread across a large geographical area, and if the one remaining dental surgery in a town such as Somerton or Castle Cary in my constituency cannot take on new patients, residents are faced with major obstacles to accessing a dentist. I want to see mobile dentistry hubs established to cater for rural communities that do not have dental provision.” 

Ashley Dalton MP highlighted the difficulties the lack of transport options poses for finding alternative providers:

“When services are not available in Burscough, in my constituency, it is not as simple as phoning the next practice down the road, or the one just over from that. It means travelling to Skelmersdale, to Southport, to Liverpool. One of my constituents has contacted every practice in our constituency and beyond, from Ormskirk to Blackpool, and is unable to register anywhere as an NHS patient—and Blackpool is 50 miles away, a four-hour round trip by public transport.”

Transport concerns were echoed by Keir Mather MP from Selby and Ainsty:

“In Selby and Ainsty, we have been left with just nine dental practices offering NHS services; we have just nine for a vast rural constituency that stretches from Doncaster in the south to Harrogate in the north, and suffers fundamentally with issues such as a lack of public transport in our rural areas—it is simply not good enough.”

You can read more about the debate at this link

The Rural Services Network is concerned about the lack of NHS Dentist providers in rural communities.

Kerry Booth, Chief Executive of the RSN said:

“A core NHS principle is to provide services to all. Yet rural voters are disadvantaged due to poor access to transport, greater distance to receive timely care, a higher density of older people, the availability of affordable and appropriate housing stock and difficulties recruiting a healthcare workforce - all impacting on the health and care of rural voters.  Rural voters deserve healthcare that is truly accessible and effective to all.”


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