Difficulties accessing NHS Dental Services in Greater Manchester: a joint report

During the COVID pandemic people across Greater Manchester have told their local Healthwatch that they were experiencing difficulties accessing NHS dental services.
A dentist with a patient in the dentist chair

In May 2021 Healthwatch England published a briefing about difficulties getting NHS dental care across England. This briefing also contained recommendations on how to improve NHS dentistry.

The 10 local Healthwatch organisations in Greater Manchester have produced a supplemental report which highlights the impact this is having on Greater Manchester residents.

Key findings for Greater Manchester

  • Across Greater Manchester local Healthwatch organisations recorded 102 enquiries regarding NHS dentistry in 2019/20. That figure increased to 650 in the period April 2020 to March 2021. A six fold increase.
  • Feedback from the public was analysed by theme. Whilst some enquiries raised concern regarding more than one theme, only 2.3% of overall enquiries in 2020/21 related to treatment, cost or health screening alone. 97.7% of enquiries raised issues of accessibility.
  • All services have been impacted by the Covid 19 Pandemic and therefore it is reasonable to make an assumption that both the increase in enquiries and the concerns regarding accessibility have some correlation with the way services have responded. The greatest proportion of enquiries were recorded in Spring 2021 - during the longest and most recent lockdown in England (38.3% of all enquiries).

These findings can clearly be linked with Healthwatch England’s recommendations which are supported by at 10 Greater Manchester Healthwatch organisations. These recommendations are:

  1. A more rapid and radical reform of the way dentistry is commissioned and provided
  2. Using the reform of commissioning to tackle the twin crises of access and affordability
  3. Greater clarity in the information about NHS dentistry
  4. Look at using dental practices to support people’s general health
This huge increase in the number of people struggling to access an NHS dentist is very worrying. Not only have we heard of people in significant pain for long periods, we have heard examples of how it has made it difficult for people to get treatment for other health conditions including cancer. We know that there were challenges about accessing NHS dental care before the COVID pandemic and some of these challenges relate to the way these NHS services are commissioned. COVID related restrictions have made things even more difficult. We urge everyone involved to work together to find solutions as quickly as they can. The NHS provides essential health services using public funds. All stakeholders have a responsibility to make these services accessible to the whole population.
— Tracey McErlain-Burns (Deputy Chair, Healthwatch Tameside)

The Greater Manchester report can be accessed here:

Greater Manchester Report

The Healthwatch England briefing can be accessed here: https://www.healthwatch.co.uk/report/2021-05-24/dentistry-during-covid-19-insight-briefing

Healthwatch recognises the efforts of frontline workers and Greater Manchester residents have told us about the support they have received from the NHS, from volunteers, and from community groups during lockdown. We have outlined these themes and recommendations with the goal of supporting service providers in improving both outcomes and access to health and care services now and in the future.

We encourage Greater Manchester residents to contact their own local Healthwatch and continue sharing their experiences and views on health and social care issues, so that we can direct our work to the issues that matter.

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