Context to our survey

In 2016, Healthwatch England heard concerns about access to dental care from a number of local Healthwatch across the country and produced a national report Access to NHS Dental Services.

Also in 2016, NHS England presented an update to Devon Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee about the current position on Access to NHS Dentistry in Devon. It outlined that:

  • Demand for NHS dental places in Devon had increased
  • Waiting lists for an NHS dentist has increased
  • Whilst these waiting lists had increased in all areas, the areas of greatest increases were for Exeter and East Devon

What Healthwatch Devon did

In order to collect feedback from the general public, we designed a survey asking questions about people’s experiences of accessing an NHS dentist.

There were two sets of questions, one for those receiving regular NHS dental treatment and one for those who don’t. The questions for those who don’t receive regular treatment focused on provision of emergency NHS treatment.

Top 4 findings from our survey


50% of people who are registered with a private dentist only waited up to 1 week for treatment. However, only 20% of people with an NHS dentist received treatment within a week.

Quality of treatment

37% of people receiving NHS care rated the treatment excellent, compared to 83% of people who received private treatment.

Most people (83%) who don’t have regular dental care knew how to access emergency treatment. However, 3 people that had received emergency treatment rated it as poor and did not feel they got the treatment they thought they needed.

Distance travelled

Most people travel less than 3 miles, but some travel 16, 20 and 27 miles to their dental practice. One person needed wheelchair access but there were no NHS dentists that were wheelchair accessible and had to travel 15 miles away. This person relies on public transport so that was very difficult for them.


The majority of people who had dental treatment had the costs explained to them and received a written quote or personal dental treatment plan.

Next steps

Our report was shared stakeholders for their consideration and response. Here is an extract from the response from the dental commissioners (NHS England Southwest Region):

“Dental access has become more difficult in many parts of Devon and an increasing factor has been difficulties providers of NHS services have been experiencing recruiting and retaining dentists. In the last 18 months the number of dentists applying to fill vacancies has fallen significantly and many practices across Devon and Cornwall have reported having no interest from dentists for some vacancies. This has resulted in practices running at reduced clinical capacity and unable to fulfil their NHS contract and look after as many patients as they would if they were at capacity. Practices across Devon have reported difficulties with recruitment, this includes practices in Barnstaple, Northam, Exeter, South Brent, Torrington, Okehampton, Tavistock, and Tiverton. This is not a situation which is restricted to the southwest and is being seen in other parts of the country.

It is disappointing to see the feedback from patients about the quality of NHS treatment – the national GP patient survey which has a section about dental care and in the most recent survey 84.3% of those surveyed reported they had a positive experience of dental services.”

Read the full comment and other responses in the full report here

Recommendations from Healthwatch Devon

We have recommended that the key findings identified in this report are reviewed by NHS England who commission NHS Dental services in Devon. It is also being shared with both local Clinical Commissioning Groups. This will need to be reviewed alongside any other evidence held.

Healthwatch Devon requested information about the steps are being taken to reduce waiting times and improve access to dental services. We will be following up about progress with this action plan.

For the public in Devon, there are ways of accessing a local dentist by contacting the NHS Devon Dental Helpline; by finding a local dentist on the NHS Choices website; by asking your local dentist. Read Healthwatch England’s 10 top tips.

To give us feedback about your experience of Devon dentists or to get support or advice contact Healthwatch Devon please email or call our free phone 0800 520 0640.

Further information

NHS Devon Dental Helpline – Email or phone 03330 063 300

Healthwatch England – 10 top tips to get the most out of your dental appointment

Healthwatch England – Access to NHS Dental Services report 2016

NHS England – Access to NHS Dentistry in Devon Report 2016 presented as an update to Devon Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee (Monday, 19th September, 2016 2.00 pm)

Share →
Thanks for visiting Healthwatch Devon
Stay updated by subscribing to our RSS feed.
Healthwatch Devon logo

© 2016-2017 Healthwatch Devon
© 2013-2016 Devon Communities Together