Dentistry and mental health appointments the most difficult to access

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

People in Norfolk are still having trouble accessing mental health and dentistry services during lockdown, according to the county’s health and social care watchdog.

Healthwatch Norfolk has published its second report based on the views of patients and service users on a range of services during the pandemic.

Nearly 500 people have taken part so far as part of the ongoing survey, with the findings presented to the Norfolk resilience cell to feed back to health and social care providers, local authorities and voluntary sector organisations.

In the most recent report, 46pc of respondents who have received dental treatment since March 2020 said it was difficult or very difficult to access, compared to 57pc two weeks previously.

During lockdown there had been a spike in enquiries from individuals who cannot register with an NHS dentist.

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Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, said more urgent dental care centres had opened which ensured more people could be seen, but issues still remained around levels of personal protective equipment (PPE).

He said: “PPE is a limiting factor of being able to treat patients.

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“The number of centres open can vary if they have PPE. They might have run out of PPE and they are in a position they have to close until they can get some from a neighbouring practice or a delivery and they are very few and far between.”

MORE: What do I do about dental problems during lockdown? An expert answers key questionsHe said announcements were due shortly into how dental practices may be able to operate again, but said it was still some time before business as usual.

MORE: Key questions and answers about getting to see a dentistOf those who have shared their experience of receiving mental health care since new measures have been introduced, 59pc across both reports say appointments are difficult or very difficult to access.

Comments from patients reported positive experiences of using video, online and telephoning appointments from the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, while others spoke of how the virus exacerbated their existing difficulties.

In addition, remote GP appointments, hospital outpatients, and pharmacies were considered “very easy” to access most frequently.

Healthwatch Norfolk chief executive officer, Alex Stewart, said: “We have been encouraged by the response that many organisations have taken to providing care during this difficult time. However, members of the public are still telling us about gaps in provision, so it is important that service leaders hear people’s concerns first-hand to allow them respond as best they can.

“Although infection and death rates are decreasing, health and social care services are still facing significant challenges as we move into the recovery phase of COVID-19. We anticipate greater pressure on social care and community healthcare services, as well as the huge demand for mental health support that will likely hit the system.”

The Healthwatch survey is still open and patient and service users and is available to complete on the organisation’s website or by calling.

Mr Stewart added: “The public insight we continue to gather has so far been well-received by health services, commissioners, and local authorities in Norfolk. Additionally, we have shared our findings with Healthwatch England who are feeding back the insight to the Department of Health.

We have received positive feedback from all organisations, they are taking public concerns seriously and using our reports to inform decision-making processes.”

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