In response to the difficulties patients were having accessing online information, those that commission and monitor dental practices formally urged practices to update their own websites and the practice’s NHS website entry, to show NHS availability for all face-to-face appointments.
Our work aimed to see if this had made a difference.
What we did:
We audited Hertfordshire dental practices’ own websites, as well as their entry on the NHS website. (According to NHS England, this is the key source of information for patients looking to find a NHS dentist.)
Additionally, we ‘mystery shopped’ a sample of practices who stated they were accepting NHS patients, to assess if the information was accurate. We also undertook a survey to ask about people’s experiences of accessing dental services over the past few months.
- The majority of dentists had not updated their entry on the NHS website for at least 90 days and in many cases not for some years. Even where practices had supplied information, it was not always accurate. Although frustrating for patients, updating the NHS Website is not mandatory for dentists.
- Our mystery shop calls showed that some dentists with no information on the NHS website were in fact taking new NHS patients or compiling a waiting list.
- The quality and quantity of information on the dental practices’ own websites varied enormously. It was hard to know if information on the practice websites was up to date and therefore patients might still be unsure if dentists were taking on new patients, or offering routine care.
- While some dental websites did not mention Covid-19 at all, there were some excellent examples of practices having dedicated pages and videos or animations of what to expect in terms of current safety measures, so that the patient was completely prepared before attending the dental practice. Some of the smaller practices had good personalised videos and reassuring messages about staff vaccination and Covid-19 lateral flow testing.
- Positive experiences of dental care by the majority of patients reflected the friendliness and reassurance of dentists, as well as appropriate safety measures in place to support patients. Positive feedback also cited good communication from dental practices, again in providing reassurance and information.
With your feedback Healthwatch England has been able to help move dentistry up the national agenda over the last year and outline how thousands of people have struggled to access or afford NHS dental care.
Whether good or bad, it’s really important that you share your experiences with us. Remember, your feedback is helping to improve people’s lives. So, if you’re ready to tell your story – we’re here to listen.