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DENTIST DELAYS: Concerns as North East practices still tackling pandemic backlog

DENTIST DELAYS: Concerns as North East practices still tackling pandemic backlog


Patients have described their struggle to get NHS dental appointments during the covid-19 pandemic.

The group Healthwatch Stockton-on-Tees said it had received a number of queries from members of the public unable to access NHS dentistry and shared some of their accounts.

One said that after moving to the area in November last year she had contacted a considerable number of dentists who were advertised as taking on new NHS patients, but found none were actually doing so.

Another, said to be in “desperate need” of a dentist and requiring treatment for a bridge, denture and two fillings, said she could not afford to go private and every dentist she rang said they were not registering NHS patients at this time.
However they did accept private patients and had tried to sell her private care insurance plans.

Healthwatch England, an independent organisation which describes itself as the “patients champion”, said its local groups across the country, whose role includes attempting to signpost people to appropriate health and social care services, received a 452% rise in calls and complaints between July and September last year.

Its latest update on dentistry during the coronavirus outbreak, which included a review of 1,375 people’s experiences, showed some faced having to wait up to three years for an NHS appointment, while private appointments were available within a week.

Meanwhile, a separate poll of 2,019 adults found that 75% of those who replied in the North-East felt NHS dentist treatments were too expensive.

More than a third (35%) of North-East respondents confirmed they found it hard to book an NHS appointment for dental care.

Lockdowns early in the pandemic restricted dentists to providing emergency care only and many practices are still continuing to catch up with routine appointments for patients on their books that had to be cancelled.

Healthwatch said it had noticed a “sharp increase” since the start of the first national lockdown last March in the number of people telling it about not being able to access timely NHS dental care.

But it also pointed out that problems existed way before covid-19 and since being set up in 2013 dentistry had been a “recurring issue”.

It said the Government needed to reform dentistry “as a matter of urgency” to create equal and affordable access to care.

Earlier this year it was announced that NHS England would take over the reform process from the Department of Health and Social Care, but no plans have yet to be announced.

Imelda Redmond CBE, national director of Healthwatch England, said: “Limited access to NHS dental care and a spiralling rise of private appointments mean many people are not able to access timely care – and the poorest are hardest hit.

“New arrangements should include making access to NHS dental services equal and affordable for everyone, regardless of where people live, their income and ethnicity.

“Failing to act now will result in long-term harm for thousands of people, putting even greater pressure on the already overstretched healthcare system.”

The British Dental Association, which represents dentists, said they had faced severe pressures as a result of the pandemic and estimated 30 million appointments had been lost.

It also warned that – according to its own poll – almost half of its members (47%) were considering retiring early or changing careers because of troubles in the sector.

A third (35%) said it was likely their practice would reduce their commitment to their NHS offer.
Shawn Charlwood, chairman of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: “The pandemic has wiped out access for millions and taken a hammer blow to the workforce, with many now looking for the exit.

“Practices have managed to hit punitive targets, but at a terrible cost. Churning through appointments against the clock in heavy duty PPE now risks an exodus from this service. Fixing NHS dentistry will be impossible if dentists are left unwilling to work in it.

“We need a clear road map that lifts restrictions, provides needed support to all practices and makes a decisive break with a broken NHS contract.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We are supporting the dental sector throughout this unprecedented pandemic and we continue to work closely with the NHS to increase access to high quality, affordable dental care as fast as possible, while protecting staff and patients.

“All dental practices have been able to deliver the full range of face-to-face care since last summer, with more than 600 practices providing additional support for urgent dental treatment.

“We continue to support the most vulnerable with exemptions from dental charges and through the NHS low-income scheme.

“Nearly half of all dental treatments – more than 17 million – were provided free of charge in 2019-20.”

Written by Stuart Arnold, Local Democracy Reporter

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