NHS dentists are still operating in Somerset

9 May 2022
What was claimed

Somerset has no NHS dental care.

Our verdict

Somerset residents are struggling to find NHS dental surgeries accepting new patients, however NHS dental surgeries are still open in the county.

The Times has reported that a patient watchdog has warned: “Somerset ‘has no NHS dental care’”.

The health watchdog in question has clarified it was not claiming that there is no NHS dental treatment in Somerset, but was instead warning that people in the county are struggling to register as new NHS dental patients. 

However, Healthwatch itself did use a similarly misleading subheading on its own website in relation to the story, reading: “No NHS appointments in Somerset.”

The Times has since changed its headline on its website, which now reads: “People in Somerset denied NHS dental care, patient watchdog says.”

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What’s the situation for NHS dental patients in Somerset?

Gill Keniston-Goble, manager of the Healthwatch Somerset patient watchdog is quoted as saying: “People are telling us they have called many dentists but cannot find one taking new patients. We are also hearing from the public that NHS England is advising there are no dentists taking new NHS patients in Somerset.”

While new patients are indeed reporting difficulties in finding NHS appointments, NHS dentists in Somerset do not appear to have stopped operating altogether.

A spokesperson for Healthwatch Somerset told Full Fact: “Healthwatch Somerset is not reporting that there is no NHS dental treatment in Somerset, but people are telling us they cannot find dentists taking on new NHS patients.”

“This means people who are not already registered or who have been deregistered are unable to get treatment unless it’s an emergency. In the past year, 22% of our feedback has been about people not being able to find an NHS dentist – they tell us they have called many dentists but cannot find one taking new patients.”

According to Ms Keniston-Goble some registered patients have also reported facing issues, including finding themselves removed from their practice’s lists after being unable to visit during the pandemic.

Is this a wider issue?

Problems in accessing NHS dental care are not limited to Somerset. According to a survey of 2,000 adults published by Healthwatch England, just over one-fifth of people who had not seen a dentist during the pandemic said they had wanted to get NHS treatment, but had been unable to find any local services.

As reported by the BBC, Healthwatch said that there were a number of factors contributing to the lack of appointments, including:

  • NHS dentists pausing acceptance of new patients during the pandemic
  • Dentists leaving the NHS
  • Longer term shortages of NHS dental service provision

The Healthwatch England survey found that 34% of patients who had seen an NHS dentist since March 2020 had found it difficult to make an appointment, while 17% could not access all the treatments they needed on the NHS.

Image courtesy of Yusuf Belek

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Healthwatch about the way it had presented the findings of its survey.

Healthwatch amended its press release and appendix.

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