Access to dentistry – response from NHS England
At Healthwatch Wirral we continue to receive concerns about the limited access to NHS dentists. We raised the issue again with NHS England and the following response was received:
NHS Dental Practices continue to struggle with capacity and demand as they work to catch up following the Covid-19 pandemic, this has been further exacerbated by workforce pressures nationally and many local practices are carrying vacancies for NHS Dentists. Practices also report that patients attending appointments have a higher clinical need, due to the time passed since their last appointment and this is impacting on the provision of NHS Dentistry for patients who do not have a regular dentist.
Part of the new Dental contract reforms announced last year are now in place with Dental therapists 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. This should start to impact on the availability of appointments in the next few months.
In addition locally, a number of pilots and specific pathways, have been put in place to support access for more vulnerable patients including children, older people, cancer patients. Work is also being undertaken with support from local dentists who have capacity to increase their contract activity, to provide additional access sessions across C&M, for patients who do not have a regular dentist.
Furthermore, funding has been allocated to the local dental helpline 0161 476 9651, (charged at local rate) to support the high volumes of callers. The dental helpline can provide advice, support and an appointment where this is required. The urgent care pathway now includes sessions for patients to access substantive care.
The dental team are reminding dentists they must update the NHS website and directory of services so patients can easily find the availability of dentists in their local area.