PRESS RELEASE: Healthwatch feedback contributes to reform of NHS dentistry (20.7.2022)

NHS England has announced changes (on 19th July) to the NHS dental contract – the first in 16 years, which should start to improve access for patients
Dentist looking at a dental x-ray

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Healthwatch teams in Sussex have seen an increase in the proportion of people telling us they have found it hard to access NHS dentists.

Hundreds of people have spoken out about their poor experiences.

Healthwatch teams across Sussex have been listening and raising their concerns.

Those concerns have finally been listened to with reforms announced (on 19th July) to dental NHS contracts that should improve access.

“We welcome the announcement by NHS England as first steps for long overdue reforms to the NHS contract governing NHS dentistry which we hope will make it easier for people to find a dentist. We have been hearing from hundreds of patients about their poor experiences, with many being left in pain or simply unable to afford essential care. We have listened and worked with local dentists, MPs and others to escalate people’s voices. We will be monitoring their impact and will be discussing them with the newly formed Integrated Care System who have taken on responsibility for dental commissioning across our region. We therefore encourage people to continue to share their dental stories with us.”
— Healthwatch in Sussex

Healthwatch teams across Sussex have seen a vast increase in the number of people coming to us for help to find a dental practice who is offering NHS treatment. In Brighton and Hove, dentistry related enquiries increased by 270% from 2020-2021.

Some issues which existed before coronavirus were worsened by the pandemic and health inequalities have simply widened. Dentists were unable to see patients for many months and large backlogs built up as a result. People also told us that:

- They were waiting longer for care unless they were prepared to pay for private treatment.
- Some NHS dental practices had gone fully private.
- They had been taken off their dentist NHS ‘lists’ because they had been unable to visit them during the pandemic.
- They were receiving unclear advice about where to get help or which dentists are taking on NHS patients, and 
- They were being left in pain.

Healthwatch worked with Local Dental Committees and dentists to raise people’s concerns and to be able to offer the right information to the public, but also to understand the pressures that dentists were working under. We raised concerns with NHS England, local Health and Wellbeing Boards, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Healthwatch England who undertook a national campaign to get things changed.

What will change?

That work has paid off. NHS England has announced changes (on 19th July) to the NHS dental contract – the first in 16 years. These mean that:

- NHS dentists will be paid more for treating more complex cases, such as people who need three fillings or more.

- Dental therapists will also be able to accept patients for NHS treatments, providing fillings, sealants, preventative care for adults and children, which will free up dentists’ time for urgent and complex cases.

- Dentists must update the NHS website and directory of services so patients can easily find the availability of dentists in their local area.

- High-performing dental practices will have the opportunity to increase their activity by a further 10% and to see as many patients as possible.

Healthwatch in Sussex

As the public champion for local health and care services, Healthwatch in Sussex will continue to work in partnership with commissioners and providers to monitor the experiences of patients and the public in accessing health and care services locally and explore how ongoing improvements may be delivered.

Healthwatch in Sussex is a collaboration between the three Healthwatch covering Brighton & Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex.

Press queries - Brighton and Hove

David Liley / 07931 755343

Broadcast media: our spokesperson will be available for pre-recorded interviews either down-the-line, for radio or for television via online platforms. Should broadcasters wish to have a representative in a studio Healthwatch will try to accommodate such requests and expects interviews to be conducted in accordance with Government COVID-19 guidelines.

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