Handful of dentists taking on new NHS patients in Norfolk, papers reveal
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A report has highlighted concerns over dental care access in Norfolk, revealing just a handful of practices are accepting new NHS patients without a referral.
Norfolk County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee will meet on Thursday to look at access issues to dental practices.
In papers to the committee, Healthwatch Norfolk looked at information for 90 dental practices across Norfolk, of which just over a third had not updated information for more than 50 days.
Of the 59 which had updated their information, only two were taking on new NHS patients, 37 were taking on NHS patients only by referral of a practitioner and 20 were not.
The health watchdog has conducted services throughout the pandemic with patients reporting consistently that dental services have been the hardest to access.
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Claire Carpenter, from Thorpe Hamlet, in Norwich, has been suffering with severe tooth ache since April and has contacted more than 25 different dental practices to try and get antibiotics for the pain.
At first and “with much perseverance” she was able to arrange a prescription from a dental surgery in Brundall.
More: Dentistry and mental health appointments the most difficult to accessA month later, the pain returned resulting in daily calls to the emergency dentist between 8am to 5pm, but to no avail.
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Miss Carpenter said she wished she did not have to self-prescribe medicine, including antibiotics that belonged to her late mother, but could not see what else she could do.
The Superbowl UK play area supervisor said: “I’ve just had enough. I have been struggling all of this time, it’s been really hard.
“I just need a prescription and no one is willing to do me one.”
The mother-of-four has even tried contacting surgeries as far away as King’s Lynn to see if they are taking on new patients.
She has also been told by practices they are only taking on private clients at the moment and have not had success calling their doctors or 111.
“I’m happy to go anywhere,” she said, “I’ve even tried to go to King’s Lynn and I do not even drive. No one will take me.”
The committee papers also show one new practice has opened in Marham, with one practice set to close in King’s Lynn in November.
Nick Stolls, of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, has produced a report about Norfolk’s dental services during the pandemic and highlighted seven issues in the county ranging from access to recruitment.
He said: “One area of concern was the difficulty that patients with toothache experienced in accessing a dentist for emergency treatment in that area and so a pilot was set up to assist patients in finding a dentist and receiving emergency treatment.”
More: ‘Only call if you’re in agony’ - huge patient backlog at Norfolk dentistsDentists are doing the best they can
Dentists are working as hard they can but are constrained by guidelines, an expert has said.
Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, said guidelines had reduced the number of patients surgeries could see.
As an example, he said with procedures using aerosol generating equipment - the high-speed drill, for example - surgeries were advised to leave an hour between patients to minimise the potential risk of coronavirus spread.
Currently, he estimated that practices could see about 20pc to 30pc of pre-pandemic patient numbers.
“Practices I have seen are working as hard as they can to see patients in a safe, secure way,” he said, “but they are constrained by the guidelines.”
He added that surgeries had been forced to prioritise patients initially.
Urgent dental care centres (UDCC) have been set up to treat those in need of immediate help.