NHS Dentistry remains the second most common reason why people contact Healthwatch Brighton and Hove. Recently, we had been signposting people to the only dental practice in the city who we knew were actively taking on new patients for routine NHS treatment. In November, we were contacted by someone we had helped who advised us that this practice has stopped taking on new patients.
In response, Healthwatch Brighton and Hove called every dental practice in our city. We were extremely disappointed to learn that at the current time, no practices are taking on new patients for routine NHS treatment.
- That some practices are placing new NHS patients on a waiting list with some stating that the waiting time could be up to next year. Whilst most practices are no longer adding new patients to their waiting list due to it being too long.
- The University of Sussex Dental Surgery in Falmer are taking on new student patients but are not accepting booking from the general public.
- Lewes road Dental Surgery and Goodwood Court Dental Surgery are seeing patients on an emergency and high priority basis such as pregnant women etc, but are not taking on new patients for routine NHS treatment.
What you can do
All dental practices have been told to prioritise seeing patients who need urgent treatment. We would encourage you to read our new guide to accessing dental treatment which can be found on our website. This provides advice to help you explain that you have an urgent need to be seen.
What are Healthwatch doing about this
Via one of our dedicated volunteers, we took our concerns to a committee of local dentists. They told us:
- Each practice has their own way of dealing with waiting lists. There is no uniform method and waiting lists relate to the capacity of each individual practice.
- There was recognition that some people need help to explain what their dental needs are - which is why we Healthwatch teams across Sussex have created a new guide to help you.
- The target for the amount of NHS work that dentists are required to undertake - as set by NHS England - is set increase to 65% of pre-pandemic levels, meaning that is still 35% below the pre-pandemic level which in itself will not sufficient to meet current demand.
- Due to COVID-19, all dental practices are required to follow strict social distancing and fallow time (a period between each patient during which clinic rooms are cleaned) which continues to reduce capacity. It is hoped that revised guidelines will be issued soon that may help to further expand capacity.
- If patients are already paying for treatment as part of a payment plan then they cannot have their treatment stopped in order to treat NHS patients
Healthwatch teams across Sussex were thanked by the Chair of this dental committee for the work they are doing to highlight the problems within dentistry as this had resulted in greater attention being paid than was the case when dentists themselves raised the issues.
Healthwatch will continue to raise our concerns about the poor availability of dental services with city leaders, local MPs, and NHS England as we do not believe that the current levels of access are acceptable.
"To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, with reference to the letter dated 20 July 2021 from his Department, NHS England, the Chief Dental Officer and Healthwatch to NHS Dental Contractors, what steps he is taking to ensure that all NHS dental practices comply with the request to review and update their profile information on the nhs.uk website to help patients find information about available care; what assessment he has made of the number of NHS dentist profiles on the NHS website that are up to date; and if he will make a statement." (15 October 2021)
Answered on 26 October:
"We are exploring what more could be done to ensure that patients are able to find information about available care. Approximately half of all dental practices with a NHS.UK profile are now updating their availability information every 90 days as requested."
This answer demonstrates that dental practices are not providing the public with up-to-date information which is unacceptable.
Healthwatch Brighton and Hove will continue to monitor the situation and update our advice and information as things change.