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‘Only call if you’re in agony’ - huge patient backlog at Norfolk dentists

PUBLISHED: 06:00 23 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:36 04 August 2020

All but a handful of Norfolk dentists have closed their books to new NHS patients over a 'backlog' of work due to the coronavirus lockdown. This means it will be difficult for patients who were not at a dentist before the pandemic to get a routine appointment when dentists begin running at fuller capacity. Photo: Gety Images/ iStockphoto

All but a handful of Norfolk dentists have closed their books to new NHS patients over a 'backlog' of work due to the coronavirus lockdown. This means it will be difficult for patients who were not at a dentist before the pandemic to get a routine appointment when dentists begin running at fuller capacity. Photo: Gety Images/ iStockphoto

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People have been told to call a dentist “only when in agony” as a huge backlog builds and Norfolk surgeries’ books are closed to new NHS patients in the wake of coronavirus.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said Norfolk has a problem with people accessing dental care in normal times, never mind in the aftermath of a pandemic. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAlex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said Norfolk has a problem with people accessing dental care in normal times, never mind in the aftermath of a pandemic. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Capacity has plummeted since they reopened for urgent care on June 8, with practices seeing a drastically reduced number of people from pre-lockdown levels.

All but a small number of Norfolk dentists have closed their books after they were given permission to return to work.

While some practices are now phasing in routine appointments to get through the backlog of work, these will be unavailable to new NHS patients who were not part of the surgery before coronavirus hit.

According to the Norfolk Healthwatch group, anybody in pain - registered or not - can access urgent care.

But of Norfolk dentists listed on the NHS website, only two have now updated their information to say they are taking on new NHS patients.

The rest are only taking on private patients, or NHS patients arriving through referral.

Alex Stewart from Norfolk Healthwatch said: “We are aware this may cause issues down the line if people aren’t able to access regular check-ups, but we have to understand that dentists’ capacity for treating patients has halved.

“We’ve been contacted by many people who had not joined a dentist before lockdown now worried about when they’ll be able to get a check-up.”

He added: “Norfolk in particular has a problem with access to dental care, with just one new surgery opening last year.

Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, said anyone in pain can see a dentist, but that routine appointments will not be a priority for many dentists for some time yet. Picture: Nick StollsNick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, said anyone in pain can see a dentist, but that routine appointments will not be a priority for many dentists for some time yet. Picture: Nick Stolls

“And now, it will take even longer for people to get routine appointments.

“But if it’s an emergency, you will be seen by a dentist at one of 10 urgent care centres across Norfolk. The advice is to call a dentist or 111 only when you’re in agony.”

Brandon Dental Care said it was seeing 10-15 daily patients as opposed to 25 before lockdown, while Beechcroft Dental Practice in New Costessey is seeing 10 now compared with 20-30.

Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, said registering with a dentist was not the same as a doctor.

He said: “Patients don’t have an automatic right of entry to a practice. The treatment each dentist is offering depends on individual circumstances, and even if they are not taking on new patients, many will accept a referral from another dentist for a person requiring urgent care.”

People who were not registered at a dentist before hand, such as those who moved here just before the pandemic, are not guaranteed a routine appointment when dentists re-open more fully as many close their books to all but private patients. Photo: Getty Images/ iStockPhotoPeople who were not registered at a dentist before hand, such as those who moved here just before the pandemic, are not guaranteed a routine appointment when dentists re-open more fully as many close their books to all but private patients. Photo: Getty Images/ iStockPhoto

Victoria Pertusa said she had difficulty in getting a dentist appointment even for an emergency.

Although living in Norwich, she is originally from Spain, and had not joined a local practice before lockdown.

She said: “My gum swelled and I had a fever and couldn’t eat, but when I rang a dentist they told me to wait it out for a few weeks. Eventually I went to the doctors for an unrelated reason, and the antibiotics they prescribed me seemed to help the gum swelling.

“But as I am not a registered patient anywhere and have had orthodontic treatment in the past, I worry about what I’ll do when I need a routine check-up. I’ll probably just have to wait until I return to Spain to see my family and get my teeth checked there.”

Niall O’Brien, who normally sees Plummer Associates at Costessey, said he was “fairly happy” with how quick his dentist responded after his filling fell out.

He said: “The appointment wasn’t classed as urgent but wasn’t routine either. After three weeks of calls and emails they triaged me, and then agreed to sort me out.”

Witard Dental Health Centre in Norwich, which is taking on new NHS patients, said it was “surprised” so many had closed their books.

The manager said: “We aren’t offering routine appointments right now but we have not closed our books to new NHS patients - that’s just not fair. We did wonder why so many people were calling us asking to join our surgery.”

Josie Fitzgerald, from Great Yarmouth, said she and her husband were due for a routine check-up at their dentist during lockdown.

She said: “We received an automated message saying they were only doing emergencies and check-ups were on hold. Both of us have said we don’t mind missing out on one, but wouldn’t want to leave it any longer.”

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