Aims: The aims of this study were to investigate the current situation regarding unregistered patients in the Mersey region who seek an urgent dental appointment, and to gather information on suspected oral cancer cases seen by dentists in the previous two years and about how such cases are referred. Methods: The survey took the form of a short questionnaire sent in May 2006 to all general dental practitioners (GDPs) in the Mersey region who were registered with the regional postgraduate dental office. Results: A total of 904 GDPs were identified and 572 (63%) returned completed sur vey responses. Half (276/572; 48%) reported that they could see new patients urgently under the National Health Service (NHS) and two-thirds (365/571; 64%) that they could see them either under the NHS or privately. Nineteen per cent reported that they would not see any new patients. Those in the most deprived areas were more likely to see a patient on the NHS. The waiting time for an urgent appointment, if it was offered, was over one week for nearly one-third (32%) of the dentists offering NHS care. Most dentists (84%) said that a patient suspected of having oral cancer would be referred the same day as the decision had been made to refer. Conclusion: Access to dental care has been a high-profile issue over the past few years. This survey indicated that in Merseyside, just under half of the dentists who responded were willing to see new patients with urgent problems under the NHS. It is suggested that this difficulty in access, together with some reported delays in obtaining appointments and the methods of onward referral, may cause additional barriers to early detection of oral cancer, especially for those in the most at-risk groups, who are also very frequently hard to reach.