Yesterday it emerged that more than 7 in 10 people (73%) found it difficult to access dental help and support over the summer.
In the latest Healthwatch report, the watchdog revealed a fourfold increase in the number of dental-related queries from July to September 2020.
Although feedback on other health and social care sectors have also grown, they reported that it was ‘by a much less significant amount’.
We’ve put together some report reaction from the associations and groups within the profession.
Neil Carmichael is chair of the ADG. He said: ‘The report confirms the ADG’s campaign for action be taken to increase access to dentistry. The ADG is seeking a new contract for NHS dentistry where oral health is a higher priority and flexible commissioning is encouraged.
‘We must also recognise the need to recruit more dentists. To deliver dentistry effectively in all regions in England quite simply, more practitioners are required.
‘Healthwatch England’s report has cast a light on a period in dentistry where access was severely curtailed. This was because of restrictions placed on the profession. This has further compounded pre-existing problems.
‘I look forward to Healthwatch England’s positive engagement. We seek a new way of working in NHS dentistry. As well as a comprehensive workforce strategy from government to fill the vacancies in areas of greatest need.’
John Makin, head of the DDU, said: ‘We note the findings of the Healthwatch report and sympathise with patients who are experiencing the difficulties described in accessing dental care. Dental professionals understand patient’s frustrations and are working within the current system and restrictions to provide high quality care.
‘Patients have been understanding on the whole. But, as the report shows, some are dissatisfied with long-standing contractual issues on patient registration and the difficulties caused by the pandemic. These are not of individual practitioners’ making.
‘For example, the backlog of patients requiring treatment caused by the suspension of routine care during the first lockdown and the restrictions now in place on numbers of patients who can be seen and treatments available.
‘At the DDU we are already seeing the impact of the pandemic in the number of complaints we are supporting our members with. Cases are unfortunately likely to increase. When examining the current situation, it’s really important the context in which colleagues are currently working is taken into account.
‘This has been acknowledged by the CDO, the GDC and others. Our members are at the sharp end of dealing with the types of incidents identified by Healthwatch. We encourage them to get in touch with us for expert support in responding to patient concerns.’
British Dental Association
British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said: ‘For many people dentistry effectively ceased to exist at lockdown, as a system already in crisis was pushed ever closer to the brink.
‘The difference now is problems that have dogged families from Cornwall to Cumbria for decades are now the reality in every community in the UK.
‘The arrival of COVID vaccines will not solve the problems facing millions of our patients. Sadly ‘business as usual’ in dentistry means postcode lotteries, failed contracts, and underfunding.
‘The Government says the mantra is ‘build back better’. It must apply that logic to dental services.’
Susie Sanderson, dento-legal consultant at Dental Protection, said: ‘Dentists have faced a range of challenges throughout the pandemic. Many have returned to practise in equally challenging circumstances.
‘For example, adapting to additional PPE and new ways of working, worrying about their health and that of their staff and patients, and facing a significant backlog of patients with outstanding treatment due to the unavoidable delays. 45% of UK dentists say their mental wellbeing is worse compared to the start of the pandemic.
‘Many dentists have also expressed their frustration that guidelines are not always easy to decipher and adhere to. They are having an adverse impact on the operating capacity of the practices. The delays and disruption frustrate patients.
‘But they also create stress for dentists, who are doing their best. But they feel cannot always act in their patients’ best interests for reasons beyond their control.’
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