Talking Teeth

The Patient and Client Council surveyed hundreds of patients to get their views on the standard of dental services in Northern Ireland.

Access to high street dental services and the cost of treatment are the main concerns that the public have about general dental services, according to a report entitled Talking Teeth: Patient Views of General Dental Services in Northern Ireland published by the Patient and Client Council. The Patient and Client Council provides a powerful independent voice on health and social care for patients, clients, carers and communities by:

  • listening and acting on people’s views
  • encouraging people to get involved
  • helping people make a complaint and,
  • providing advice and information.

Regular dental care is important as dental health is an indicator of all round health.

It is not just about being free from pain because of dental decay, but it also touches on self-esteem, confidence and affects what can be eaten. Dental care can also assist in the early detection of mouth cancers. It is a service that is central to health and social care, but one that is often overlooked.

Acting on evidence that the public was experiencing difficulties in registering with dental practices, the Patient and Client Council undertook a survey of dental practices in June 2009 which confirmed that across Northern Ireland there was variable access to general dental services and that the use of registration criteria was common. This indicated to the Patient and Client Council there was the potential for some sections of the community to be disadvantaged. The current report allowed the Patient and Client Council to explore this further by:

  • understanding patient perception of general dental services
  • identifying the extent and nature of perceived concerns regarding these services.

It is important to talk to people about dental care, as there are a number of related developments.

Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Michael McGimpsey, has made an additional investment of £17 million for general dental services to ease problems of access; the full impact of this investment has yet to be realised.

  • The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is negotiating a new general dental contract with the British Dental Association
  • The economic recession has the potential to change public demand for private dental care, thereby freeing up capacity in the general dental system for NHS (HSC) work.

The Patient and Client Council has presented findings to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and relevant health and social care organisations to help ensure that the voice of the patient influences decision making.

The Patient and Client Council spoke to 761 members of the public between May and July, to gather their views and experiences of dental services in Northern Ireland. A combination of techniques for gathering opinions was used including focus groups and questionnaires.

The focus groups concentrated on ‘hard to reach’ groups and included; people with a learning disability, mental health service users, young people, older people, parents of young children, rural women, ethnic minority community representatives and people with a physical disability.

The Patient and Client Council spoke to people in their workplace, further education students, community groups and members of the public through street consultations in each Health and Social Care Trust area.

Stella Cunningham from the Patient and Client Council said: “The fact that so many people took the time to share their views on dental services is testament to the value and importance people in Northern Ireland place on health and social care services.

“When people receive dental services, the level of satisfaction is high, however there is difficulty in accessing services. There is a degree of confusion about whether or not treatment is provided by NHS (HSC) dentists, and by private treatment. There is also confusion about the registration arrangements for NHS (HSC) services. There is a clear perception that it is hard to find an NHS (HSC) dentist within a reasonable travelling distance.

“Treatment is viewed as expensive and people are worried about the lack of information regarding costs. Retired people, rural dwellers, migrant workers and minority ethnic groups were identified as disadvantaged groups in the current system. There was support for the suggestion that NHS (HSC) funding and services should concentrate on a smaller number of basic treatments.”

The Patient and Client Council is making a number of recommendations to the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety to address issues including best practice guidance for dentists on notice for patients on registration, benefits of good dental care, public information for patients about costs, access and entitlement and prioritising basic dental treatments. A full report will be available to download from http://www.patientclientcouncil.hscni.net and hard copies will be available on request by calling 0800 917 0222.

One way of getting involved in sharing views and experiences of health and social care services is by joining the Patient and Client Council Membership Scheme. The Membership Scheme is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, with over 800 members, since its inception this year. By becoming a member, people have the opportunity to have a say on local and regional issues in health and social care. It is free to join and each member decides how much or how little they are involved.

To become a member or for more information, visit the Patient and Client Council website www.patientclientcouncil.hscni.net or telephone 0800 9170222.