This week, NHS England has announced several steps to ensure better dental support for people with complex problems. And improve the information available for those trying to find an NHS dentist.
We've been campaigning for improvements to local dental services for more than three years and welcome this announcement from the NHS.
More than one thousand people have shared their experiences of dental care with us since the start of the pandemic, with the majority struggling to get the care they need. Sadly it has become even harder for people to access routine NHS dental care in this period.
We have passed this feedback onto Healthwatch England to help them influence these improvements in dental care.
What have you told us?
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen an increase in the proportion of people telling us - and Healthwatch across England - that they found it hard to access an NHS dentist.
Issues that have been repeatedly highlighted to national decision-makers include:
- Longer waiting times for care unless people are prepared to pay for private treatment.
- People finding out their NHS dental practice had gone fully private.
- People finding they had been taken off their dentist NHS lists because they had been unable to visit them during the pandemic.
- Unclear advice about where to get help or which dentists are taking on NHS patients.
- People being left in pain, with some developing more problems that led them to be hospitalised and cases of people treating themselves inappropriately.
What action has been taken?
NHS England has announced several changes to the contract with dentists who provide NHS care, including:
- Increasing the payments for dentists when treating patients with complex needs, for example, people needing work done on three or more teeth;
- Requiring dental practices to regularly update the national directory on www.nhs.net to clarify if they are taking on NHS patients; and
- Moving resources from dental practices that are underperforming.
What is our response?
Responding, Sandie Smith, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said:
"Access to NHS dentistry is one of the biggest issues people tell us about and the problem has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
We are pleased at this announcement from NHS England which will hopefully improve care for those with complex dental issues. However, we remain concerned about the lack of routine NHS dental care appointments in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
Dental health and physical health are strongly linked, and those who are being hit the hardest by this dental access crisis are those in our poorest communities.
We will continue to campaign for improvements in access to dental care for local people.