An entire county could not get its toothache treated or checked by the NHS after 2,000 dentists quit last year in what is believed to be England’s starkest case of a ‘dental wasteland’ .
Patients in Somerset say they are in agony and facing bills of over £1,000 as they are pushed into the private sector by the lack of health checks and treatment.
Healthwatch Somerset said a third of calls received in the three months to February were about problems accessing NHS dentistry – many of which were for children, pregnant women and people who cannot afford to pay. pay for private dental care.
Gill Keniston-Goble, head of the Patient Champions organization, said that in England’s eighth largest county: “People tell us they’ve called lots of dentists but can’t find any one that accepts new patients.
‘We are also learning from the public that NHS England is advising that there are no dentists taking new NHS patients in Somerset,’ a claim NHS England denies.
But a survey by The Telegraph of the NHS’s ‘find a dentist’ online service found that of the 89 NHS-linked medical practices surrounding Taunton and Bridgwater, the county’s two main towns, none were taking adult patients freely.
A third of surgeries within 18 miles of towns said they were ‘not taking any new NHS patients at the moment’, while two were only taking under-18s, 25 had not updated their status and 29 were via an NHS referral. only, i.e. for emergency care.
“The Worsening Crisis in Dental Care”
The Association of Dental Groups found that 2,000 dentists left the NHS last year, up from 951 the year before. He also found that ‘dental deserts’ now stretch across the east of England and are emerging in ‘red wall’ areas, where ‘there is almost no chance of seeing an NHS dentist for routine care.
It comes as Healthwatch England, the national body representing patients, warned that limited access is ‘now a worsening crisis in dental care’, which is ‘creating a two-tier dental system’ and digging into the gaps. health inequalities.
A new poll for the Patient Champion has found that two in five people have had difficulty making an appointment with the NHS dentist. Almost a quarter said they had to pay privately to access care, prompting calls for ‘urgent attention’ from ministers.
Around 17% said they felt ‘forced’ to pay privately when they tried to book a dental appointment. The survey of 2,000 adults in England found that 49% believe NHS dental charges are ‘unfair’ in the face of rising costs of living.
Lydia Davis, 27, who moved to Bridgwater, Somerset, at the start of the Covid pandemic, said she had been unable to find an NHS dentist within a two-hour radius.
She suffers from a form of gum disease called gingivitis and her gums bleed frequently when she brushes her teeth. She needs two new fillings and wisdom teeth removed.
After Ms Davis was unable to find a local NHS provider, she sought private care. “Sitting in the dentist’s surgery, listening to the list of treatments, the £1,100 cost made me cry,” she said. “These costs were on top of the £50 I had to spend to get her appointment.”
In Somerset, the NHS has set up a rare dedicated phone line to help people access emergency dental care, which goes beyond the 111 service elsewhere.
Healthwatch Somerset has warned that some older people in care homes are being removed from NHS dentist lists, after not being able to attend appointments throughout the pandemic.
In neighboring Dorset, a Healthwatch report in February found that just three of 74 dental practices that responded to a request for information were taking on new adult NHS patients.
Shawn Charlwood, from the British Dental Association, said: ‘For more than a decade this service has been running on empty, with our patients paying fairer so the Treasury can pay less.’
A spokesperson for NHS England and NHS Improvement South West said: “Access to NHS dentists across the country has been heavily affected over the past year by infection prevention control measures, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing recruitment challenges.
“To ensure those who need it most can access treatment, we have provided over 550 extra urgent care appointments every month in Somerset.
“Looking ahead, the South West Dental Reform Program brings together commissioners, professionals and the public to improve access to NHS oral health services and develop initiatives to improve recruitment and retention in the region.”