Dentists ‘firefighting huge backlogs’ as patients face longer waits as another practice closes
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People who had been waiting months for a dental appointment have now been told their dentist is about to close to NHS patients.
That means even more will find it even harder to access free NHS treatment, in part of the country which already has the lowest number of dentists.
Mydentist is set to close it’s branch on King’s Lynn’s High Street to NHS patients at the end of the month.
Patient Steve Edwards, a 61-year-old factory worker from Clenchwarton, near Lynn, said he had been unable to see an NHS dentist for 18 months, after having three appointments at the practice cancelled.
“Everybody I speak to say this seems to be doing down the NHS and turning it all private,” he said. “I pay my taxes, I’m 61 years old, for the last 18 months I’ve not seen a dentist. My teeth are starting to deteriorate. It’s rubbish, it’s terrible.”
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Lucy Mendonca, from West Lynn, said she had been unable to find another NHS dentist in the area for herself, her husband Jose and sons Spencer, 17 and Preston, aged six.
“As we keep hearing there’s nowhere to go any more,” she said. “We don’t have a car, none of us drive. We just hope none of us gets toothache.”
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A spokesperson for Mydentist said the difficulty of recruiting enough dentists alongside increased running costs has forced it to make the “difficult decision” to close the King’s Lynn practice on November 30.
They added: “Our teams are working hard to complete open courses of treatment while adhering to all Covid-19 safety guidance.
“Patients are being treated either at this practice before its closure or at our nearby practice, located on Purfleet Street, and are being informed of the closure as well as where they can continue their dental treatment after November 30.”
The surgery is the second in the area to close in two years. The Coastal Practice at Snettisham which was also operated by Mydentist closed in October 2018.
Shirley Anne Rumens, 61, from Dersingham, was one of its patients. Mrs Rumens was told her nearest NHS practice was in Skegness.
“I literally spent a whole day ringing every dentist I could find,” she said. “They all said: ‘We’re not taking NHS.”
Mrs Rumens eventually found a practice in Dereham. She had to catch two buses to collect the forms to sign up. Her first appointment has been cancelled because of lockdown.
“I have a hole in the back of one of my teeth,” she said. “They said you’ll have to buy a kit and fix it yourself.”
West Norfolk currently has the lowest number of dentists in the country, with 3.4 per 10,000 population according to the National Audit Office. Almost a fifth of people are unable to access an NHS dentist.
Plans were in place to open at least one new practice by April, 2021. North West Norfolk MP James Wild met NHS England and NHS Improvement’s director of primary care and public health and its head of commissioning last week to review dentistry provision and plans for improved access.
Prior to coronavirus, a new practice was planned to open next year after the opening of the new practice at Marham.
Mr Wild said he had pressed for the NHS to proceed with these plans as soon as possible to provide better access to dentists.
Those who practice in the county are represented by the Norfolk Local Dental Committee.
Its secretary Nick Stolls said: “I’m not aware that at the moment the commissioners are able to put additional dentists in place.”
Mr Stolls said west Norfolk had “a combination of issues” which included practice closures and difficulties attracting dentists to come and work in the area.
“We don’t have a dental school anywhere near Norfolk,” he said. “The nearest to King’s Lynn is 100 miles away.
“Statistically, graduates all tend to work within 50 miles of the school they’ve graduated from or they’ll return to where they’re from, where their homes and families are.”
Mr Stolls said dentists in the area were “overloaded” with patients, while coronavirus precautions had reduced the numbers who could be seen because of clean-up times needed after each appointment.
“We can’t do much as dentists to improve things,” he said. “We can only work with the tools we are given.”
The British Dental Association (BDA) has said the government “holds the key to restore services” across the East of England, with 63pc of the region’s practices operating at less than half pre-Covid capacity according to its new survey.
The BDA told the Department of Health and Social Care that a package of capital funding now offers the “only hope” in restoring routine services to millions of patients across the region.
BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: “Covid restrictions have left dentists across the East of England firefighting with huge backlogs, unable to see more than a fraction of our former patient numbers.
“We now face a Catch-22. New rules could bring back a dose of normality, but come with a multi-million-pound bill for new kit that practices simply cannot afford.”
Between the March lockdown and September over 14.5 million fewer NHS treatments were delivered in 2020 compared to the same period last year, a figure the BDA now estimate to have reached 19 million.