An Essex man who was struggling to eat properly and lose weight claims he was unable to get an appointment with the NHS dentist to fix his dentures – until a group of health intervenes. The Southend-on-Sea resident was struggling to get help before Healthwatch Southend found him a dentist several miles away.
The group, which works with people to ensure they have access to the best possible care for their needs, has warned many people in Essex and the east of England struggling with rising costs — and the limited availability — of dental appointments.
In a poll by a group of 2,026 England-based adults, more than half of respondents (54%) in the east of England felt NHS dental charges were unfair, with 48% saying that it was difficult to make an appointment with the NHS. This compares to 49% and 41% for the whole of England.
Read more:The latest news from the Borough of Southend
Healthwatch has also contacted the 14 dental practices in Southend-on-Sea offering NHS treatment to find out if they can make appointments for new patients. Of the 13 who responded, only two were able to accommodate new patients, with existing patients also experiencing delays before they could be seen.
Healthwatch Southend chief executive Owen Richards said: “Here in Southend a local resident came to us when he needed help fixing his dentures. The patient said he was unable to eat properly and had lost weight, which had aggravated other health issues.
“None of the dentists in Southend were able to offer him an appointment with the NHS. Healthwatch Southend were able to find a dentist who could treat him, but he had to travel to Wickford. He had been struggling for a few months.”
Overall, 38% of respondents believe they are less likely to see a dentist, despite clinical guidelines recommending regular dental checkups to keep people’s mouths healthy. It can also prevent other complications, including in patients who have had a heart valve replacement.
The findings come as more than 2,000 dentists left the NHS last year, according to new data obtained by the Association of Dental Groups under freedom of information laws, suggesting a growing trend towards private provision .
Dr David Bowry, Chairman of the Healthwatch Southend Advisory Group, and former community dentist said: “The current situation has been exacerbated over the past two years by the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in even more reduced service and long waiting lists. I pay tribute to our general dentists and their staff who have valiantly maintained at least one emergency department throughout this very difficult time.
“Furthermore, the Community Dental Service, which traditionally acted as a ‘safety net’ service for patients unable to access NHS dental care, has itself been starved of investment for many years and does not is now able to offer care only to people with special needs (and who meet rigorous criteria) in a very small number of clinics across the city.
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“The result is that patients have no choice but to go to the A&E ward at Southend Hospital, which adds an inappropriate extra burden to the ward there.”
Louise Ansari, National Director of Healthwatch England, said: “Access to NHS dentistry has been one of the biggest issues people have raised with us over the past two years. There is now a deepening crisis in dental care, leaving people struggling to get treatment or regular checks on the NHS.
“The shortage of appointments in the NHS creates a two-tier dental system, which increases inequalities and damages the health of the most deprived communities. With millions of households bearing the brunt of the escalating cost of living, private treatment is simply not an option and even NHS charges can be a challenge. This requires urgent attention if the government is to achieve its leveling plan and tackle health disparities. »
An NHS spokesperson in the east of England said: “We are committed to ensuring that everyone can access high quality dental care in Southend-on-Sea and are working closely with dental providers to improve access to services, including inviting license holders NHS contracts to undertake additional activities. Urgent and emergency dental care is available for those who need it, and people should continue to use the NHS 111 service for advice on where to go.