People in England ‘face three-year waits for dentist appointments’ | Dentists

Alonzo Osche

People are being told to wait until 2024 for dentist appointments while others are being removed from their practice lists for not making appointments sooner, according to a damning report into the state of dentistry.

Dental surgeries have reported that they have thousands of people on their waiting lists, while patients are unable to access care after ringing round numerous dental surgeries, a watchdog has warned.

Delays have resulted in the worsening of painful symptoms and in one instance even led to a patient needing hospital treatment after overdosing on painkillers, it said.

But Healthwatch England said that some people are being offered swift private care as an alternative at the same dental practice, with some patients reporting that they felt pressured to pay for their treatment.

Some practices appeared to be prioritising private care, it added.

Healthwatch England’s latest report on the state of dentistry, shared with the PA news agency, highlights a number of issues in affordability and access, including:

  • People removed from the practice list for not making an appointment sooner.

  • Repeated cancelled appointments – even midway through treatment.

  • Dentists have reported that they have thousands of people on their waiting lists, with some patients claiming they are unable to even get on a waiting list.

  • Dentists shutting down or going completely private.

  • Patients being asked to wait up to three years for appointments – or six weeks for emergency care.

  • Some who called NHS 111 seeking emergency dental care were told to “use salt water” and carry on calling practices until they could find help.

  • Other patients have been told to use DIY filling kits while they wait for an appointment.

  • People being increasingly prescribed antibiotics with no prospect of a follow-up appointment to actually treat the problem.

Healthwatch England conducted a review of 1,375 people’s experiences shared with its local teams and found that some people had been asked to wait for three years for an NHS dentist appointment, but were told that private care could be available within a week.

The watchdog warned that even when people can get access to dental care on the health service, three fifths (61{20335960d828ac45ef5fde98a5aa7f4c1fb21de0715bafc997f46433d5bf3454}) of people deem treatment too expensive.

While some people get access to free dental care – including children, pregnant women and those receiving income benefit support – many need to pay rates of between £23.80 for routine treatment to £282.80 for more complex care.

Healthwatch England said that some people are avoiding treatment because they cannot afford the cost. It said that there is a “twin crisis” of access and affordability.

Healthwatch England has called on the government to speed up reforms of NHS dentistry to avoid harm to people’s health.

Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, told PA: “New arrangements should include making access to NHS dental services equal and affordable for everyone, regardless of where people live, their income and ethnicity.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting the dental sector throughout this unprecedented pandemic so everyone across the country can access affordable, high-quality dental care.

“We continue to support the most vulnerable by providing exemptions from dental charges for certain groups – nearly half of all dental treatments, over 17 million, were provided free of charge in 2019-20.”

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