Stories of doom as NHS patients describe 70-mile round trip for dental treatments and extractions
More stories of dental woes have come to light in a survey that asked the Teesside public for their opinion.
Eight local Healthwatch organizations in the North East, including those in Darlington, Hartlepool, South Tees and Stockton took part between November and January in a study surveying just under 800 people about their experiences since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, while 36 of the dental practices were also contacted.
A report has highlighted patients traveling long distances in a bid to access NHS dental appointments, including a 70-mile round trip from Hartlepool to Newcastle. Another Middlesbrough patient said he was ‘willing to drive to be seen’ and described unsuccessful efforts to find a dentist in Billingham, Hartlepool, Redcar, Stockton and Yarm.
Read more:Dental issues: Figures show more than 1 in 10 calls to 111 seek dental help as demand rises
Around 80 per cent of those surveyed said it was ‘very difficult’ to find a dentist able to see them with waiting lists at some practices for new NHS patients lasting up to a year. A quarter of patients said they were still waiting for a routine check-up and even those already on a dentist’s books had long waits for a check-up – over three years and counting in some cases.
A small proportion – 6% of those surveyed – said they had turned to more expensive private treatment, with the Healthwatch report saying there was a “strong perception that private patients were becoming a priority”. He said it was shocking that one in five patients who needed minor treatment, such as fillings or broken or chipped teeth, had yet to be treated.
Meanwhile, when asked about emergency or urgent treatment involving discomfort, pain or severe pain, more than 37% said it was very difficult for them to make an appointment.
A Stockton patient said: ‘I saw an emergency dentist the next day after using the 111 service online which resulted in an extraction. It might not have come to this if I had seen my dentist and been treated sooner for an abscess and infection, but I was unable to get an appointment despite the description of symptoms and pain.
Healthwatch, which is a national statutory body with teams and offices across the country and describes itself as the “champion for patients”, said it received 128 comments from its respondents, of which 63% were of a negative sentiment, 30 % positive and 7% neutral.
A Hartlepool-based patient said: ‘There seems to be a shortage of local dental practices accepting NHS patients. In addition, where patients are registered, there is also a shortage of appointments.
“Even when an appointment is urgently required, it is necessary to wait. It seems that the only solution is to pay privately even with a practice where you may be registered.
Of the dental practices themselves that took part, 42% said they were accepting new NHS patients. Around 74% of the 36 practices also saw private patients while only 24% were exclusively NHS patients, but there was one reported case in the South Tees area where a dentist stopped seeing private patients to eliminate a backlog of NHS servers.
The majority of the public (39%) registered with practices waited between one and two months for routine dental procedures. Some practices said they were operating at only 60% capacity and described a ‘backlog’ of checks with ‘frustrated patients and lashing out at staff’.
They described how, because of the coronavirus, they had to spend more time cleaning, reduce treatment time and requiring “fallow” periods between appointments, limiting the number of patients who can be seen. A practice in South Tees said they typically had 40 emergency appointments scheduled each day before covid, now there were only five or six left.
Some practices have also voiced their dissatisfaction with the current NHS dental contract, saying the targets, which can require dentists to refund money if they are missed, were difficult or simply unachievable.
“Nipped in the Egg”
The report acknowledged there were good experiences with dental care in the area, but said the increased wait for appointments was having a ripple effect “with worsening dental problems so that it becomes necessary for urgent treatment rather than being nipped in the bud”. It has also added to pressure on overwhelmed hospitals and GPs.
Healthwatch said there were ‘clear indicators’ of possible improvements, such as ensuring the NHS Choices website had up-to-date information, while dental practices themselves needed to improve their communication with patients and provide more immediate advice and support to those waiting. treatment where they felt pain.
He said: “Perhaps the most important indicator is that it is clear that there are too few NHS dentists available to meet the needs of people in the North East. We urge NHS England to make reform of dentistry a top priority, otherwise there will be lifelong health implications for current and future generations, especially among the most deprived communities in our region.
NHS England says it is committed to ensuring everyone can access high-quality dental care and is looking at ways to increase access to existing services, while working with partners to improve recruitment of dentists and retain those who are already in the labor market.
It was announced earlier this year that there would be a £50million cash injection for the sector to increase the number of appointments available. But Tory MP for Stockton South Matt Vickers said it was a “drop in the ocean” and NHS dentistry had been neglected for 15 years.
He previously said: ‘Millions of people are missing appointments, DIY tooth extraction is on the rise, oral cancers are going undiagnosed and healthcare professionals are leaving NHS dentistry by boat. . Make no mistake, this is already a national crisis.
The MP, who raised the issue with ministers, said longer-term funding was needed and more training places for aspiring dentists. He suggested ‘using our Commonwealth links to attract English-speaking dentists’, while the 2006 NHS dental contract needed to be reformed to retain staff and provide better access and preventative care.
Department of Health data analyzed by the BBC showed almost a thousand dentists left the NHS last year, although the number of dentists carrying out NHS work in the Tees Valley area (330) remained relatively stable and only decreased by 1% year-on-year.
Healthwatch has produced a ‘demystifying’ leaflet about NHS dentistry, which gives facts about signing up for a practice, why you can be offered a private appointment and what constitutes emergency care, which is available here
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