Primary care trusts' success in commissioning NHS dental services will come under scrutiny as part of the forthcoming independent inquiry into health service dentistry, the chief dental officer for England has revealed.

Barry Cockcroft told HSJ that although just under a third of PCTs had already made significant inroads into improving access to dentists, others had not made the same progress.

He said: "Some PCTs are making it work incredibly well - our main concern is why when some are doing that, some are not."

Mr Cockcroft said PCTs had been grappling with problems including dentists rejecting NHS contracts and disputing their terms, but there was now "absolutely no shortage" of dentists wanting to increase NHS work.

Performance management

"We've done a series of visits around strategic health authorities looking at how they're performance managing PCTs to do this," he said.

"It's about engagement and obviously there's an issue about the capability and capacity of PCTs - if you've got a significant number of people focusing on this, you're going to do a good job."

The review, announced by health secretary Alan Johnson last week, comes amid reports of patchy access to dentistry in some parts of the country and declining rates of complex treatments.

Access boost

Its aims are to identify ways government and the local NHS can work together to boost access, to look at whether the decline in complex treatments reflects the clinical need of patients, and to suggest ways of reducing inequalities in oral health.

It will also recommend how funding for dentistry should be allocated to PCTs and how workforce planning, training and regulation should be developed. The review team will be chaired by Jimmy Steele, chair in oral health services research at the School of Dental Sciences in Newcastle.

Cumbria PCT consultant in dental public health Eric Rooney, Heart of Birmingham teaching PCT clinical director of salaried dental services Janet Clarke and Milton Keynes PCT director of contracts Tom Wilson make up the rest of the team.