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Surrey Patients Struggle to Access NHS Dentists

Published on: 4 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 5 Jun, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

People in Surrey are having problems accessing an NHS dentist and some are waiting over a year for treatment as dentists struggle to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Practices have reduced appointments due to heightened precautions, and a backlog built up during lockdown could also be contributing to long waiting times.

Healthwatch Surrey had 60 complaints about dentistry between August-December 2020, compared to just 10 in the same period the previous year.

And so far this year, 54 people have contacted their helpdesk unable to find a dentist accepting new NHS patients.

One person said they had still not managed to find anywhere after calling over 20 dental surgeries, while another got lucky only after an eight-month search.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a marked increase in enquiries about dentistry,” a spokesperson from the patient representative body said.

“We have heard from someone who is on a 55-week waiting list for NHS treatment and another has reported spending eight months trying to find a dentist.

“Waiting times vary massively depending on the dental surgery.”

Several people reported that the information from 111 or on the NHS or dental surgery’s websites incorrectly said they were taking on NHS patients.

When they called the practice, they found they were actually only accepting new people on a private basis.

A Healthwatch England report out last week said that nationally, people unable to go private can be left waiting for up to three years to be seen.

All routine dentistry was stopped last April to help limit the spread of coronavirus, while hundreds of urgent dental care hubs opened around the country to deal with urgent care only.

Surgeries reopened from June, but NHS England are now still asking NHS dentists to see urgent patients and those from vulnerable groups first, before resuming overdue routine care.

Yet many of the people trying to access treatment are in pain. One told Healthwatch Surrey: “I have broken teeth and possibly an abscess so need to see someone soon but have no money for private treatment.”

Some of the complainants to Healthwatch Surrey were looking for their children, advised by NHS literature of the importance of taking their child to a dentist “sooner rather than later, even before their first teeth come through” as “by the age of five they could already have tooth decay”.

One parent trying to register her two-year-old daughter was told it was not possible – but she could be registered privately.

NHS England has a duty to commission dental services to meet local need. Where a patient cannot get access to an NHS dentist, NHS England is expected to provide help and can be contacted here.

An NHS South East spokesperson said: “Dentists have continued treating people who required urgent treatment throughout the pandemic and anybody who is in need of urgent dental treatment will get that through a local dental practice.

“While practices continue to prioritise patients with the highest need, with some also resuming routine appointments, people may be given other courses of appropriate treatment, such as advice, and prescribing antibiotics to treat infection or analgesics to help relieve pain.”

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said the urgent dental care hubs set up last year remain open. In Surrey, these are located in Guildford, Redhill and Weybridge.

The spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the dental sector throughout this unprecedented pandemic and we continue to work closely with the NHS to ensure everyone across the country can access affordable, high-quality dental care.

“All dental practices have been able to deliver their full range of face-to-face care since last June.”

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