Press release: Brighton and Hove contributes to Healthwatch England's dentistry crisis report

Healthwatch England have announced a dental crisis as a result of local Healthwatch, including Brighton and Hove, sharing concerns from local people trying to access dental services during the pandemic.
Dentist looking at a dental x-ray
We urge the Government to take urgent action to address issues with access to NHS dental care as we continue to hear from people about their poor experiences.
— Healthwatch England

Healthwatch England

Healthwatch has reported that it continues to hear concerns about dentistry, which were first highlighted in the "Dentistry and the impact of COVID-19" report following a 452% rise in calls and complaints to local Healthwatch.

In a follow-up review of people's feedback on dentistry, we looked at a further 1,129 people’s experiences of accessing dental care, received between October and December 2020. Click here to read more about the findings.

Healthwatch England found:

  • Access to dentistry remained difficult for more than seven in 10 people (72%).

  • Some people who actively sought dental treatment were told they would have to wait anywhere between a few months to, in one case, two years for an appointment.  

  • Access to urgent NHS treatment was difficult for both people with painful teeth, with patients being told that dental pain was not considered an “emergency”, and those who were prescribed multiple courses of antibiotics by NHS111 without being provided any further treatment.  

  • Some people said they had called over 40 practices to find an NHS dentist, and pulled their own teeth out when they couldn’t bear the pain.  

  • When dentists couldn’t offer an appointment, they advised people to buy dental repair kits to treat themselves. In one case, an individual was advised to use a nail file to deal with the sharp edges of a broken tooth.  

What have we done locally? 

Healthwatch Brighton and Hove spoke to local people about accessing dental services under COVID-19 and we were told:

- 60% found it difficult or very difficult to find an NHS dental service to help them

- 25% never heard back from the dental service they contacted; More than three days elapsed before 38% heard back about an initial consultation

- 59% were dissatisfied with waiting times to see someone

Read the full findings from our 2020 survey by clicking here

Healthwatch Brighton and Hove have raised these issues with NHS England who commission dental services, local MPs, and local NHS leaders.

We have also provided findings to the Council's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, asking NHS commissioners to improve access to dental services and clarify important issues for the public. We have spoken to local MPs to table these concerns to the Secretary of State for Health.

Healthwatch Brighton and Hove are currently reviewing dental practice websites and out of hours phone numbers to find out what local people are being advised and this is what we have found so far:

- 13 dental practices do not have any information on services being offered under the current lockdown

- 8 dental practices are not clear as to whether they are offering NHS appointments (in addition to private appointments only) 

- 15 dental practices do not mention prioritising patients according to urgency or for patients with previously cancelled appointments

- none of the practice websites mention the NHS Dental helpline and only three refer patients to the Brighton & Hove Emergency Dental service (in the case of urgent need).  

The full report will be made available in the coming weeks. 

Based on local views, we are championing the cause for people in Brighton and Hove. It is great to see that our local findings have helped raise these important issues nationally, through Healthwatch England.
— David Liley, CEO, Healthwatch Brighton and Hove

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