Full extent of NHS dentistry shortage revealed by far-reaching BBC research

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: United Kingdom

Publishing organisation: BBC News

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-08-08

Language: English

Authors: Harriet Agerholm (data journalist),
Libby Rogers (data scientist),
Ruth Green (senior producer),

Additional reporting by:
Alison Benjamin (data scientist),
Becky Dale (senior data journalist),
Christine Jeavans (senior data journalist)
Jana Tauschinski (data designer)
Eve Mattison (researcher)
Leah Dunderdale-Smith (researcher),
Ellie Butler (researcher),
Robert Tait (researcher),
Lucy Gilder (researcher),
BBC Data Journalism team

Broadcast story by:
Dominic Hughes (correspondent),
Jenny Kumah (correspondent),
Brijesh Patel (shoot/edit camera operator)


See contributor list above

Project description:

Public access to dentists funded by the National Health Service (NHS) was the subject of this data investigation.

The available data on NHS dentistry was limited, so BBC journalists sought to ask every UK dental practice with an NHS contract if they were taking on new patients.

We telephoned nearly 7,000 practices in what the British Dental Association called “the most comprehensive and granular assessment of patient access in the history of the service”.

We discovered nine in 10 NHS practices were not accepting new adult patients for treatment and 8 in 10 were not taking on children.

Impact reached:

It was the lead story throughout the day on BBC News on 8 August, spanning digital, TV and radio. It was also turned into a 30-minute documentary for BBC iPlayer and appeared on the “5 minutes on” podcast.

It was picked up widely by other newspapers and broadcasters in the UK, and was also reported on by some overseas media.

Following our report more than 60 cross-party members of parliament called on the Government to act with “urgency and ambition” to tackle the problems facing NHS dentistry.

The research has been brought up in in Parliament several times and the Health and Social Care Committee in December cited our research as they launched an inquiry into NHS dentistry provision.

Techniques/technologies used:

We gathered lists of practices that had NHS contracts from health providers in each of the UK’s four nations.

Then, old fashioned phone-bashing was used to gather the information.

We used spreadsheets to log the calls and the programming language R to clean and analyse the data. We used R markdown to produce an interactive breakdown for regional and local BBC teams, for use in their reporting.

The story online featured a video case study and Carto map showing a breakdown of the figures to local level.

Context about the project:


What can other journalists learn from this project?

Other journalists can learn that a lack of existing data need not be a barrier to a data story, in fact areas where there is little or no data make it possible to compile your own.

Although gathering original data can be a lengthy process, so it is essential to spend time planning things out thoroughly at the beginning of a project to prevent it becoming overwhelming.

Project links: