Thousands denied dental care in Cambridgeshire and it is especially bad in Wisbech
A new report from Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Healthwatch Peterborough says thousands of local people are being denied dental treatment due to the shortage of NHS dentists.
People are struggling to get an NHS appointment with a high street dentist and are turning to the Dental Access Centres for help.
This service is extremely busy and all of the Dental Access Centres regularly turn away patients in need of urgent care.
More than 14,000 patients were turned away last year (April 2017 – March 2018), with the highest numbers in Wisbech and Peterborough.
The figure for that period in Wisbech was 2,750 but Healthwatch say the figures for 2018 are alreday showing an increase on the previous year, with 3,028 people turned away between April – September 2018)
Healthwatch visited the Dental Access Centres in Peterborough and Wisbech using its statutory power to Enter and View to find out more.
This important power allows |Healthwatch to visit a service, see what is happening, and talk to patients, carers and staff about their experiences.
Their report, Finding an NHS dentist in Peterborough and Wisbech, tells their stories.
The overwhelming message from the people Healthwatch spoke to at both Dental Access Centres was that, whilst care at this service was good, it was hard to get an appointment.
It was also hard to find a high street dentist for routine NHS and urgent care work.
The Dental Access Centres service is only meant to provide urgent and out of hours’ dental care, like pain relief or a temporary filling.
However, nearly four out of every five patients that we spoke to told us that they were now using the Dental Access Centres repeatedly.
This lack of routine NHS dental care means that many people are just getting help when it’s an emergency. Some are not even getting that.
Three in every five people said they were not currently under the care of a high street NHS dentist.
One person told Healthwatch: “I checked online to see if he could get registered with an NHS dentist, but they all say they are full.”
Another person said, “I am still looking for a dentist to join – I was registered with a dentist in Wisbech, but it went private and so now I just come to the Dental Access Centre when I need care.”
Healthwatch heard reports of people being removed from their NHS dentist’s list. One person said: “I was taken off my dentist’s register without notification because I missed an appointment, then had to ring several dental practices and they are all full.”
Dental staff told Healthwatch they are worried about the increasing number of children with tooth decay that they are seeing. This is caused by lack of access to routine dental care and a poor understanding of how to look after teeth.
Healthwatch found that children do not have any priority in the system, unless they have additional needs and are referred by another healthcare professional.
One person told Healthwatch: “My two-year old daughter has a broken tooth, but I cannot find anyone who will register her.”
In 2017/18 there were 657 tooth extractions for children under general anaesthesia in Peterborough alone, with a further 116 extractions using nitrous oxide. The children who lost their teeth were mostly aged between three and 12 years.
As part of our Finding an NHS dentist in Peterborough and Wisbech report, Healthwatch have made recommendations to the organisations responsible for making decisions about dental services.
They have asked NHS England to make sure that there are enough high street, urgent and out of hours’ dental services to meet the local populations needs. It is their job to plan and pay for (commission) these dental services for people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
Healthwatch have asked the local public health teams and Public Health England to develop an oral health campaign targeting children and families.
And have asked Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust who run the Dental Access Centres to make sure the information they are providing for people using their service is accessible.