Half of Richmond patients unable to get dental care unless they can pay

Healthwatch Richmond heard from over 300 people about accessing dental care in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, between October and November 2020 and found that access to NHS dentistry is a local and nationwide problem amid the pandemic
I’m extremely concerned that many of my constituents are struggling to access critically important dental health appointments. Much like the economy, the health fall-out from the pandemic – outside of those who’ve caught the virus - will be vast and we must do all we can to mitigate against it now. This is clearly an unacceptable situation and I’m therefore grateful to Healthwatch Richmond for working tirelessly to raise awareness of the challenges that many face with NHS Dental care.
— Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park
  • New data gathered by Healthwatch Richmond shows access to NHS dentistry is a local and nationwide problem for the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Low-income households are at greater risk of being denied treatment where only private appointments are available 

  • Healthwatch Richmond calls on the Government, the NHS and the dental profession to work with patients to fix systemic issues in dental care.


  • Almost half of people seeking NHS care (46.0%) were unable to book a routine appointment. People who could pay privately were 16 times more likely to get routine dental care than those who relied on the NHS. 

  • 1 in 3 NHS patients were unable to access even urgent or emergency care, making them twice as likely as private patients (1 in 6) to have to go without urgent or emergency care.

  • Of those who received care, most were pleased with the care they received (82.9%), however NHS patients were 8 times more likely to rate their care negatively than private patients (26.2% vs 3.3%).

  • Patients are being told that although there are no NHS appointments available, they can choose to pay privately to receive care, creating a barrier for low income households who cannot afford the costs of treatment. One person for example was quoted £6,500 for private treatment that would have cost £280 on the NHS.

Healthwatch Richmond’s findings come as Healthwatch England published a national report warning that NHS dental care is facing an immediate crisis and as MPs and the British Dental Association call for the government to step up to the plate and sort out dentistry.

NHS Dentistry has a huge backlog after being closed down last spring due to safety concerns. Whilst it restarted in the late Summer it is still running at less than 50% of normal capacity and dentists are struggling to see everyone who needs care.

Most days we hear from someone who needs help getting dental care and whilst we’ve helped many people, the situation is becoming steadily worse. Hearing about people’s suffering and struggles to get basic dental care is heartbreaking. Only this week I spoke to a parent who had done everything they could to get treatment for their young child. After enduring a painful 4 month wait with no end in sight they scraped together just over £1,000 to pay for private treatment that should be free on the NHS. Despite this they may still face weeks of watching their child suffer before their appointment
— Mike Derry, Chief Officer

Healthwatch Richmond is calling for the government to take action to tackle the substantial backlog of need that continues to grow in Richmond and across the country. 

If you need help to get NHS dental care or have an experience of accessing care, good or bad, call us at 020 8099 5335

Read the full report here

To read our full report, you can download it below. 

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