Urgent Need For Dental Reform In Dorset
Healthwatch Dorset recently investigated why people are struggling to get dental care in the county, finding only 3 of Dorset's 99 NHS registered dental practices who were taking on new adult patients and only 13 who were accepting children as new patients.
Access to NHS dentistry has always been an issue in recent years, but the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted this issue even more.
Over half of the enquiries that Healthwatch Dorset has dealt with recently has been about dentists. People have reported that they have been unable to find an NHS dentist to get routine or urgent dental care, with many experiencing significant and worsening pain due to delay in treatments.
During September/October 2021, a team from Healthwatch Dorset volunteers contacted all 99 of Dorset's NHS registered dental practices to investigate the situation. 74 responded, 6 did not respond as they were no longer treating NHS patients, and 19 did not respond, despite being called 3 or more times, and being sent a letter about the research.
The report, Accessing Dental Care In Dorset, demonstrates why the public were concerned about access to this NHS service.
Additional to the 3 of the 74 practices that responded, were taking on new NHS adults, 6 did say they were taking on patients that were pregnant, 4 said they were taking on new NHS patients with cancer. Another 5 said they would see people receiving cancer treatment, but only if they were referred and/or had additional needs, for example, a disability or diagnosed mental health condition, under the discretion of the dentist.
Only 13 practices were taking on children as new NHS patients, and 2 of those was only in emergencies. A further 7 said they would see children, but only if their parents were registered as private patients. Only 18 (25%) of those that responded has a waiting list for NHS patients; 48 (65%) did not. Waiting times varied and some practices said they did not know when they would open their waiting list.
66 (49%) of dental practices reached were seeing existing patients for routine appointments.
In response, Healthwatch Dorset is calling on those responsible for dental care to improve the situation in several ways, they include:
More urgent dental care should be made available. All NHS dentists should be advised to make places available for children without restrictions and they should be advised and funded to provide places for people who are pregnant and/or undergoing cancer treatment.
The UK Government and NHS England should build on the recent one-off funding of £50 million for 350,000 extra NHS dental appointments by March 2022, by speeding up dental contract reform and providing significant and sustained funding to tackle the underlying problems of dental health and affordability.
Healthwatch Dorset have been sharing this information and recommendations with Dorset NHS commissioners, Dorset Local Dental Committee, dental care providers, local councils, the South West Dental Commissioning Team, and NHS England, to highlight people's concerns.