Britain’s dentist shortage

Britain's state-financed dental service, which, stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone and no longer even pretends to try, says the New York Times.

Britain has too few public dentists for too many people:

  • At the beginning of the year, just 49 per cent of the adults and 63 per cent of the children in England and Wales were registered with public dentists.
  • And now, discouraged by what they say is the assembly-line nature of the job and by a new contract that pays them to perform a set number of "units of dental activity" per year, even more dentists are abandoning the health service and going into private practice – some 2,000 in April alone, the British Dental Association says.

    How does this affect the teeth of the nation?

    "People are not registered with dentists, they can't afford to go private and therefore their teeth are going rotten," says Paul Rowen, the member of Parliament for Rochdale (England). Rotting teeth and no one to treat them are among his constituents' biggest complaints, up there with gas prices and shrinking pensions. Just 33 per cent of the Rochdale population is signed up with a state dentist, down from 58 per cent in 1997.

    Nor is the level of care what it might be. The system, critics say, encourages state dentists to see too many patients in too short a time and to cut corners by, for instance, extracting teeth rather than performing root canals.

    Source: Sarah Lyall, In a Dentist Shortage, British (Ouch) Do It Themselves, New York Times, May 7, 2006.

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    For more on Health:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 16 May 2006

    SA Comment:
    National Health systems result in increased demand and reduced supply – even in wealthy countries like the UK – for South Africa this option would spell disaster. Creating a dynamic, growing, private health care system will increase supply, stabilise demand, and attract skilled health professionals. If other countries want to keep their own health professionals they can do the same.
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