The most recent report from the NHS is the latest in a series of quarterly reports published by the NHS that brings together information on NHS dental activity in England up to the second quarter of 2012/13 and also provides information on the number of patients seen by an NHS dentist, up to the third quarter of 2012/13. One of the key headline figures is that a total of 29.7 million patients were seen in the 24 month period ending December 2012, an increase of 1.5 million on the March 2006 baseline date when the last dental contract was introduced. However although this may seem like a large number if one looks a little deeper one can see that this represents 56.0 per cent of the population compared with the March 2006 figure of 55.8 per cent. This is a very small increase.
However, looking at it from another angle, it shows that the 29.7 million figure is an increase of 135,000 patients on the previous quarter and a rise of 265,000 on the same quarter in 2011-12. The total number of patients seen has increased each quarter since its lowest point in June 2008. In December 2009 the number exceeded the March 2006 baseline, when the current dental contract was introduced. So overall the news is positive in terms of raw numbers, however there remains a massive amount of work to be done to get a larger proportion of the population to access NHS dentistry.
It is disappointing to note that the number of children seen by an NHS dentist is equal to the March 2006 base figure of 7.8 million; however what is of more concern is that the percentage of children seen (69.0 per cent) is below the 2006 base figure (70.7 per cent). When the coalition government came to power in May 2010 they promised to make the dental health of children a priority and I seems that they have not been able to deliver on this. Child dental health is important.
Here in North Manchester, we practice in an area of high social deprivation and poor dental health. In terms of tooth decay levels, our local health trusts are in the bottom 20 out of all 300 health trusts in the whole country. Figures from the Department of Health show that areas like ours have children's tooth decay rates that are eight times worse than the best areas in the country. As such, we need prompt and proactive public health measures such as water fluoridation in order to improve the dental health of the population, especially children. A comparable area like South Birmingham, which is in the bottom third for social deprivation but which has fluoride in the water, is in the top third of areas with the lowest levels of tooth decay. So, when we compare like for like we can see that fluoride does work.
The amount of treatment appears being undertaken appears to be less There were an estimated 9.9 million Courses of Treatment (CoTs) in the second quarter of 2012/13, a decrease of 118 thousand (1.2 per cent) on the same period in 2011/12. All treatment bands saw a decrease in the second quarter of 2012/13 compared with the same quarter in 2011/12. These figures may indicate an increasing move towards prevention.
I find it both sad and amusing that an MP from the Labour Party, which abolished dental registration in 2006, who has dentistry as his brief, has actually tabled a parliamentary question asking about the number of registered dental patients. This just shows a woeful and inadequate level of understanding.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics. It is easy to look at headline figures, but any set of statistics need deeper analysis and reflection. They can be viewed from many angles and seized upon by people with different agenda to satisfy their political needs. The good news is that more patients are being seen but the figures are a mixed bag.