A damning report reveals that dental patients are being made to wait until up to 2024 for NHS appointments.
Laying bare the extent of the crisis, watchdogs said many people were turning to private care or even pulling out their own teeth, and doing DIY fillings.
A number of surgeries have thousands on their waiting lists and others have closed their books to new patients. However, some of the same practices will offer an appointment inside a week to those who can afford to pay privately, according to research by Healthwatch England.
It found that one in three patients have felt pressured into paying for private care because of intolerable pain. Others say they’ve been driven into debt to meet dentistry bills.
The report finds that those who are unable to go private can be left waiting for up to three years to be seen, and even emergency care entails waits of up to six weeks.
The report said that the delays can lead to worsening of their dental problems and losing their teeth, and Healthwatch England claims public opinion of NHS dentistry has never been lower and highlights a twin crisis of lack of access and affordability.
The number of dental surgeries offering NHS treatment dropped from 9,661 in 2014/15 to 8,408 in 2019/20.
The British Dental Association said dentistry was the only part of the NHS operating on a lower budget than a decade ago.
Spokesperson Shawn Charlwood said that for too long meaningful reform of NHS dentistry had been repeatedly kicked down the road and that COVID has pushed a system already in crisis to breaking point, with millions left with no options.
He said that patients need to know that by this time next year ministers will have turned the page on a decade of failed contracts and underfunding and that while it should be shocking that some are waiting weeks, months or even years to access care, that was business as usual before this pandemic struck, and he said that this wasn’t just the result of lockdown but years of treating NHS dentistry as the Cinderella Service.
The Healthwatch England report highlights the case of a patient who required hospital treatment after they overdosed on painkillers they were taking to ease their dental problems.
Others have been told to use DIY filling kits or have been prescribed antibiotics with no chance of a follow-up appointment to treat the underlying problem.
Some people have been calling pretty much every dentist to try to find one that was taking on patients – they all said the same thing, that due to COVID they’ve not been provided with authorisation from the NHS to register any new patients within are having to pay privately for treatment, and this is a national disgrace.
The dentist system in the United Kingdom is chaotic at best, and it’s been allowed to become private without any consultation, and it appears that successive governments don’t want to finance dentistry properly and have pushed to private.
The Government need to sort his problem out because people are being left in pain.
If you want to see your local dentist on the NHS, it’s come back in 3 months – offer to go private and they’ll see you in 24 hours – there appears to be a certain amount of COVID profiteering going on here.
It also begs the question – what are we paying all this tax towards because the NHS clearly isn’t being used correctly, and the NHS isn’t free at the point of contact – we already pay for it in our taxes.