Lack of dental access branded ‘scandal’ as council demands answers

Dentists are constrained by guidelines to keep patients safe. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dentists are constrained by guidelines to keep patients safe. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A lack of access to NHS dental care in Norfolk has been branded a “scandal” with councillors set to demand answers from central government over the issue.

Norfolk County Council’s health scrutiny committee met to discuss reports of a lack of access to dental treatment in the county.

And councillors hit out at dental commissioners “inability” to offer clarity, and highlighter fears over people in “pain” and “disfigured”.

The committee has agreed to demand answers from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) regarding the issue.

In papers to the committee, Healthwatch Norfolk looked at more than 90 practices, of which just over a third had not updated information for more than 50 days, and revealing just a handful of practices are accepting new NHS patients without a referral.

READ MORE: Handful of dentists taking on new NHS patients in Norfolk, papers reveal

Speaking at the meeting, held on Thursday, September 3, Brenda Jones, Labour councillor, said: “Dentistry is essential and full of experienced, caring professionals but we need more passion. In 2020 the fact you can’t access an NHS dentist is a scandal.”

She added: “People have pain. They’re disfigured. It’s harder for you to get a job if you’ve got foul breath, missing teeth, no teeth.

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“It affects your ability to eat and there are huge health implications - particularly for people with heart conditions.

“My mum developed a heart condition as a result of not getting dental work a few years ago.

“Is this a government issue? Why is there only one dentist in the whole of Norfolk that’s taking on new people?”

Alison Thomas, Conservative county councillor, asked: “We’ve been discussing the lack of NHS dentists and your inability to tell us how many practices are not taking NHS patients. Could you tell us how many practices have reduced their capacity?”

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

David Barter, head of commissioning at NHS England and NHS Improvements East of England, said: “We’ve not decommissioned or taken away access from any practices in Norfolk.

“The providers are their own businesses and if they decide to hand back their NHS quote we’re duty bound to let them do that.”

And Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, added: “Since we’ve reopened again, the pressure my colleagues have been under to do work on patients has been huge. We’ve had to deal with working under new guidance in full PPE for eight hours a day.

“We were in a very difficult situation. We’ve taken some criticism as dentists and I think in some cases that’s been particularly harsh. We can only see a certain number of patients a day based on guidance. Most of my colleagues are working very hard. I spoke to one yesterday who is taking 32 triages and seeing 16 patients in a day.”

READ MORE: Dentistry and mental health appointments the most difficult to access

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