Before the pandemic, it wasn’t exactly easy to register with an NHS dentist.

Since, it’s become virtually impossible, writes Russell George MS.

Last year, a UK-wide study revealed that 93% of NHS practices in Wales were not taking on new patients - the highest level in the UK.

Indeed, it was reported last month that Dafydd Williams from Newtown has to travel to Telford each time he needs to see the dentist - a 100-mile round journey - and I doubt he is the only one.

Powys was one of 10 councils the study found last year did not have any dentists taking new adult NHS patients. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen two close just in Newtown in recent months

According to the British Dental Association, the new NHS contracts the Welsh Government says is the answer to these issues that place an emphasis on seeing new patients, is a bad deal to those already registered at practices.

Local dentists have told me, first-hand, about their reservations and the difficulty of having the payment for dentistry work set in stone, when they have to pay to cover a lot of overheads.

This puts them under huge financial strain, leaving some them with no choice but to reduce the amount of NHS patients they take on. This makes it even more difficult for patients to find affordable dental care.


As Chair of the Senedd’s Health and Social Care Committee, I get to examine in detail some of biggest issues facing Welsh people’s ability to access healthcare.

So, I felt it essential that we have a look at this, but the results have not instilled confidence. The true scale of the dentistry crisis in Wales is unknown, with no clear picture of how many people are currently waiting to see an NHS dentist.

This means that support cannot be targeted in the right place to tackle the backlog. This is hardly surprising as we have to rely on others to see how many dental surgeries were open to new patients because the Welsh Government nor health boards collected information.

Not only did our inquiry confirm significant problems that pre-dated Covid, chiefly historic underfunding - Scotland and Northern Ireland spend more per head than the Welsh Government - but, a two-tier system emerging where people have to go private when they cannot afford to or forgoing treatment altogether, leading to immense pain or exacerbated health conditions. Cost-of-living pressures have not made this any easier.

It makes me think that the phrase two-tier system isn’t quite right - we are in danger of seeing a three-tier system where those who can’t register with an NHS dentist but can’t afford to pay privately are left with no access, and can only rely on emergency dental service.

The Committee I chair made 16 recommendations, including calling on the Welsh Government to explore if current levels of funding are sufficient, if we should introduce fluoride into the public water system in Wales, and whether oral health programmes for children aged under 12 should be delivered in schools as a preventative measure.

I will also continue to press Powys health board to do what it can to play its part to help incentivise dentists to come and live and work in Powys.


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