People are struggling to get an NHS appointment with a high street dentist and are turning to the Dental Access Centres for help.
This service is extremely busy and all of the Dental Access Centres regularly turn away patients in need of urgent care. More than 14,000 patients were turned away last year (April 2017 – March 2018), with the highest numbers in Wisbech and Peterborough.
Our Healthwatch visited the Dental Access Centres in Peterborough and Wisbech using our statutory power to Enter and View to find out more. This important power allows us to visit a service to see what is happening. And talk to patients, carers and staff about their experiences.
Our report, Finding an NHS dentist in Peterborough and Wisbech, tells their stories.
Hard to get an appointment
The overwhelming message from the people we spoke to at both Dental Access Centres was that, whilst care at this service was good, it was hard to get an appointment.
It was hard to find a high street dentist for routine NHS and urgent care work.
And it was hard to get an appointment at the Dental Access Centre itself.
The Dental Access Centres service is only meant to provide urgent and out of hours’ dental care, like pain relief or a temporary filling. However, nearly four out of every five patients that we spoke to told us that they were now using the Dental Access Centres repeatedly.
This lack of routine NHS dental care means that many people are just getting help when it’s an emergency. Some are not even getting that.
High street NHS dentist
Three in every five people said they were not currently under the care of a high street NHS dentist.
Dental staff told us they are worried about the increasing number of children with tooth decay that they are seeing. This is caused by lack of access to routine dental care and a poor understanding of how to look after teeth.
Healthwatch found that children do not have any priority in the system, unless they have additional needs and are referred by another healthcare professional.
In 2017/18 there were 657 tooth extractions for children under general anesthesia in Peterborough alone, with a further 116 extractions using nitrous oxide. The children who lost their teeth were mostly aged between three and 12 years.
As part of our Finding an NHS dentist in Peterborough and Wisbech report, we have made recommendations to the organisations responsible for making decisions about dental services.
We asked NHS England to make sure that there are enough high street, urgent and out of hours’ dental services to meet the local populations needs. It is their job to plan and pay for dental services.
We have asked the local public health teams and Public Health England to develop an oral health campaign targeting children and families.
We have asked Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust who run the Dental Access Centres to make sure the information they are providing for people using their service is accessible.