5:30 am November 29, 2021
Access to an NHS dentist in two of Suffolk’s largest cities is virtually non-existent, a survey from this publication found, revealing the difficulties unregistered patients face.
We have attempted to make contact with the NHS dental offices in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds which are listed on the NHS website, not to mention orthodontists (who correct the position of the teeth).
We were able to get responses from 17 of the 27 listed, and none are currently registering new adult NHS patients, and only one said they are taking children.
A handful said they had waiting lists – with a list of 400 people – and one operation said people were accepted on their list.
The crisis facing NHS dentistry leaves patients with toothache for months and some go to extreme lengths and extract their own teeth.
This month alone, the Dentaid charity, which offers free emergency clinics to those in need, came to Bury St Edmunds for the first time to provide relief to people with toothache.
Speaking in parliament earlier this week, Waveney MP Peter Aldous said access to NHS dentists was an issue that ‘had been brewing for some time’ – exacerbated by Covid – and that there now has parts of the country, especially rural and coastal areas, which are “dental deserts”.
Toothless in Suffolk is campaigning for a local NHS dental benefit for everyone and has just gone national in her fight.
Mark Jones, spokesperson for Toothless in Suffolk, described the lack of NHS dental services as a “disgrace, a complete dereliction of duty to the general public by not providing access to NHS dentistry where there is a need “.
He said unfortunately our survey shows “the norm” across the country where access to an NHS dentist is “no longer a postcode lottery: postcode is England”.
He said: “We now need to bring dentistry into the 21st century with a higher level of funding that will ensure that treatment is available to everyone.”
He said the impact of not seeing a dentist for years was “colossal” not only on that person’s health and well-being, but on their entire family.
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of the Healthwatch Suffolk patient group, said during the pandemic two-thirds of their calls were for NHS dental care, but they haven’t spoken to anyone who has managed to find an NHS dentist .
He said there seemed to be a focus on those with urgent dental needs who are told to call 111 and who are referred to an emergency dental center, but added: “That’s good. as long as they meet those needs, but the problem is dental care is almost all about prevention and personal care.
“If we are going to be in a situation where our oral health is gradually deteriorating to the point where we can only access emergency care, it is a horrible situation.”
Healthwatch Suffolk a published a report on people’s experiences, including a low-income person who was in ‘excruciating pain’ but could not find an NHS dentist.
We recently reported Jeremy Burchell from Walberswick on the Suffolk coast who spent 13 years trying to get a dental appointment.
What causes dental crisis?
A range of factors, including how the NHS dental contracts work, recruitment issues and underfunding, as well as the additional pressures and arrears caused by the pandemic, are all believed to be at the root of the current crisis.
Eddie Crouch, President of the British Dental Association (BDA), said: “The access crisis in East England predates Covid.
“This is the net result of a decade of failed contracts and brutal cuts that have left practices struggling to recruit and retain staff and even remain viable.
“Patient groups and a growing number of MPs are joining us in pushing the government to change.
“Until we see real reforms and investments, patients in the region will have few options.”
There are many criticisms of how dentists are paid to perform NHS work, Healthwatch Suffolk said.
It centers on the fact that dentists are paid as much for treatment which may include an exam as for treatment which involves a lot more work.
The Healthwatch Suffolk report said: “Dentists attribute closures and service changes to recruitment issues and increased operating costs.
“They say the money they receive from the NHS and the requirements of the contract (including financial penalties) make it impossible to provide dental care in a financially sustainable way.
“So firms often use private labor to offset the cost to them of fulfilling their NHS contract.”
Mr Jones added: “We try to say that it’s not the dentists’ fault. They have to make a living in the end.”
Toothless in Suffolk recently issued six government and NHS England demands, including reforms to the NHS dental contract that will encourage dentists to provide NHS treatment and income to cover the 50% of the population who are not government funded.
What is the government saying?
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said: “Dental offices have been able to provide their full range of face-to-face care since last June and, thanks to their hard work, emergency care has come back. to pre-pandemic levels.
“We continue to work closely with the NHS to enable more patients to be seen, prioritizing urgent and vulnerable patients and children, while minimizing the risk of infection for staff and patients. “
More than 700 emergency dental centers remain in place to support the provision of urgent face-to-face care.
We have reached out to NHS England for comment. Earlier, a spokesperson said they were “working closely with dental providers to improve access to services.”
NHS England is currently buying more dental services for Suffolk, but they won’t be available until next summer.