Half the country hasn't an NHS dentist

Gareth sent in this scan of a recent Daily Mail front page with a question about the sentence construction used in the headline, but I'd been meaning to blog about this story for a different reason.

If you can't see the scan, I should tell you that the headline reads "Half the country hasn't an NHS dentist"; the web version of the same story explicitly states what the headline implies, namely that "Half the country can't get an NHS dentist". And perhaps for some of our foreign readers I should explain that the NHS is the National Health Service – the role of which is to provide health care, often free, to anyone normally resident in England (Scotland and Wales apparently have their own Health Services).

In contrast to the headline, the story itself states only that:

In total, 23,161,368 people in England - almost half the population - received no dental care on the Health Service in the two years up to last September.

To my mind, there's a great deal of difference between someone being unable to get an NHS dentist and someone not receiving dental care from an NHS dentist. After all, there are many reasons why people might not go to an NHS dentist in any given period: they might choose to have private dental care; they might have a phobia of dentists; they might not think about going to the dentist at all.

So to say that half the country can't get an NHS dentist simply because they don't go to an NHS dentist is highly misleading. It's part of a worrying trend of NHS-bashing I've noticed in the media – other popular soft targets include the BBC and the public transport network. Of course, all of these have their failings but there's no need to invent new failings by deliberately misinterpreting statistics.

In my own experience, which probably isn't representative of anything, I've had no problem finding an NHS dentist willing to take on new patients. It does seem usual to have to pay for a private hygienist though...


Roy said...

The smaller headline above the main one is also interesting. "Thousands of desperate patients are demanding treatment at A&E". Well, I happened to be passing through the A&E department at my local hospital this week (took a wrong turning off the corridor) and, whilst the waiting room was full, nobody looked particularly desperate and there was no visible demanding going on at all. Don't you just love the Daily Mail!

TootsNYC said...

So our JD is one of those thousands of desperate people demanding--and getting?--treatment.

That would be one way to spin it--and it would be "accurate":

Reporter: "How many people did NHS dentists treat last year?"

Official: "Thirty thousands."

Headline writer: "Thouands of desperate patients demanding help"

Anonymous said...

My original question, which JD hasn't mentioned, was to do with the wording used in the headline itself.

"Hasn't" is obviously a contraction of "has not", which means that the sentence used is effective "Half the country has not an NHS dentist". That sounds very odd to me, and I asked whether it was correct or not.

JD, being the clever chap he is, responded with "I'm sorry, I haven't a clue" - which is a familiar phrase (I think it's the title of a radio programme) and therefore suggests the headline used is technically correct, if a little archaic/peculiar. I still couldn't imagine using a construction like this in either written or spoken English, though.

Anonymous said...

Gareth, the phrase is correct, if a little archaic. I suspect it was the space-saving aspect that contributed to its use in this case.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Excellent point, Toots NYC.

And sorry Gareth, it was a good question but I just got distracted by my own rant!

I also agree with Gez, but as the wording of the headline seems to distract from the story itself then perhaps the Mail should have tried a different construction.

Anonymous said...

I assume this thread is responsible for the advertisements for "English-speaking dentists" that are now appearing at the top of the blog! I wonder if they're on the NHS?

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Yes, I'm afraid so, Gareth! But I thought you couldn't see my AdSense ads...

If any other bloggers are interested, you certainly get more cents for a click-through on a dental ad than you do on a dictionary ad! Looks like Apus and I will be able to afford that pint soon.

Anonymous said...

I felt guilty! I've disabled my ad blocker for the Engine Room (and only the Engine Room). This, of course, means that as far as I'm concerned, all the adverts on the whole Internet are now on your site, which seems pretty disreputable to me.