Directors hear update on NHS dentistry problems

Continuing NHS dentistry issues, the closure of an NHS Patient Helpdesk supporting people waiting for care, and healthcare for Ukrainian refugees in our area were among the topics discussed at our March Board meeting yesterday.
dental instruments on a tray

Healthwatch Directors have expressed concern and disappointment over the continuing problems for local people trying to access NHS dentists.

We’ve been highlighting NHS dentistry difficulties in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough for over three years. And problems have been made worse because of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In a report to our Board meeting held in public yesterday, CEO Sandie Smith said NHS dentists were increasingly choosing to end their NHS contract and many people are having to pay for private treatment.

So currently, people are having to travel increasing distances for urgent care and most people cannot access routine dental care.

Read the experiences report on NHS dentists

Healthwatch has been continuing to collect people’s feedback about the problems and advise people how to find an NHS dentist.

In January and February this year we dealt with nearly 90 enquiries.

No take up for extra funding offer

In January, an extra £50m was offered to dentists across England to fund additional evening and weekend appointments if they wanted to.

But only 10% of dentists in our area expressed an interest – and Healthwatch has no evidence of any take-up.                                                                         

Cambridgeshire Community Services, which provides our local emergency Dental Access Centres, told us they were not able to use the funding as they could not recruit extra staff to do the work in the timescale of the offer.

What we're doing

Our Healthwatch continues to share people’s feedback with Healthwatch England which is lobbying Government on the issue. We also meet regularly with NHS England, which organises NHS dental care, as well as the Local Dental Committee.

However, from July 2022, responsibility for commissioning will move to local level with the new integrated care system (ICS) for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Our Healthwatch is briefing new ICS leaders on the issue – and asking them to prioritise planning.

No extension for NHS patient helpdesk

The NHS patient helpdesk, set up to support people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough waiting for hospital and community care, will close next week.

Despite our appeal for it to be extended for as long as it is needed, the service will end on 31 March.

Our Board heard yesterday that the helpdesk has been a success, taking up to 200 calls a day from local people.

However, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) wants local NHS trusts running hospital and community services to improve their own information systems for patients.

Healthwatch Directors voiced disappointment about the helpdesk closure and were concerned for people struggling to find their way through the health and care system and not knowing who to contact.

Our Board is now writing to the CCG underlining the importance that trusts provide clear information on waits and how to stay safe.

Read more about what to expect while waiting

After closing next Thursday, the helpdesk will offer a recorded message to callers in April, directing people to the hospital or service where they are awaiting treatment.

The service is open Monday to Friday, 9am - 5pm.

Call freephone 0800 048 5800

Healthcare information for Ukrainian refugees

Access to healthcare for Ukrainian people arriving in our area was also discussed at the meeting.

Directors heard that our Healthwatch is working with local councils and other organisations supporting those escaping the conflict.

We’ve recommended that welcome packs are given out so that refugees know:

  • How to register with GPs
  • Local healthcare services are free
  • Free help and information is on offer from our Healthwatch.

Do you know your rights about registering with a GP? 

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Members of the public are invited to find out more about our work by attending our meetings.  You can also ask questions but these must be submitted in advance.

Our next session is Wednesday 29 June, 4-6pm, online via Zoom.

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