Calls for Norfolk dental school as patients face long delays

People who were not registered at a dentist before hand, such as those who moved here just before th

Calls have been made for the build of a dental school in Norfolk. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Calls have been made for a dental school in Norfolk, as NHS practices across the county struggle to meet the increasing demand for appointments. 

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said he “can’t see an easy way out" as dental practices are working “flat out” at full capacity, forcing many to travel miles from their homes or opt for private treatment. 

Mr Stewart said the situation in Norfolk has been made worse since the pandemic began and the only way to tackle the problem is for dentists to come to the county. 

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, has called for change at East of England Ambul

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, has called for change at East of England Ambulance Service Trust. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

“Covid has created inevitable problems,” he said.  

“In dental practices they have to ensure the health and safety of their staff and patients, reducing the number of people they see. 

“We were short of dentists in the first instance and the population is ever increasing, so if you are a new resident coming to Norfolk or indeed if you haven’t been to a dentist within a couple of years, it will be extremely difficult to get an appointment.  

“That has resulted in people's frustrations rising quite understandably.  

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“There are a whole myriad or reasons of why we are in the state we are in. Ultimately, we need to be looking at getting a dental school in the UEA and selling Norfolk as a really nice place to live and work.” 

On our Facebook page, people shared frustrations trying to get an appointment with an NHS dentist in Norfolk.

Troy Thomson, from Norwich, said: “If you want a dentist appointment and you're not registered you have to call this number and they have appointments to hand out. 

“I started at 8am in the morning and I got through at 2pm but all the appointments were gone. I got told that you have to try again the next day.   

“I was calling that number for about five days. But I gave up in the end and I had to pay for root canal and a filling for £700 privately.

“I was in so much pain I tried everywhere. I rang every dentist I could in Norwich but they won’t even put you on the waiting list - they said they can’t even get through the ones they have.”  

One patient said: “I've been looking for a new dentist for over two years. It would be nice to find a practice that would take me on as an NHS patient and that wouldn't involve a four-hour round trip on four buses.” 

Another said: “I have been trying to register with NHS dentist for over two years. I now have a tooth that is breaking up, but there are many of us who cannot afford to go private, this is a problem that needs looking into.” 

Jason Stokes is secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee.

Jason Stokes is secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee. - Credit: Jason Stokes

Jason Stokes is secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee and works Cathedral Street Dental Practice, in Norwich.  

He said as well as national problems such as caps on funding of dentistry and rigid NHS contracts, Norfolk faces its own problems including attracting a big enough workforce. 

“Effectively the main issue is, there has never been enough dental provision for the whole population,” he said. “There has never been funding for that across the country. 

“But Norfolk has some special issues and getting a big enough workforce is going to be more challenging in rural areas than it is in urban parts of the country or closer to dental schools. 

“The pandemic has come along and it has made the provision of dentistry incredibly difficult."

Mr Stokes, who works as a private dentist, said NHS practices are under enormous amounts of pressure to reach the minimum Units of Dental Activity (UDAs) - as required by NHS contracts. 

If they fail to meet the minimum quota of patients seen, practices are forced to pay back funding at the end of the year.  

He added: “A huge number of practices were not hitting their quota even before the pandemic, because it is extremely hard. 

“So, if you are working under the NHS you have to see patients very quickly and work very efficiently and there is less wriggle room to accommodate someone who rings up with an emergency."

In a recent survey by the British Dental Association, Mr Stewart said it was revealed that 59pc of practicing dentists are considering going private within the next five years. 

“We would encourage people to write into us to tell us about their experiences."

To share your experiences in Norfolk email, enquiries@healthwatchnorfolk.co.uk. 

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