Three years backlog! – Lives in danger as NHS dentistry faces worst crisis ever

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It comes as patients face three-year waits for routine check-ups in parts of England. The British Dental Association (BDA) said urgent funding and investment in the service was desperately needed. With an estimated 35 million lost appointments due to the pandemic and a growing backlog, NHS practices have only been offering emergency care. Some patients have been so desperate they have pulled out their own teeth or opted for costly private treatment.

Last week, 40 MPs joined the call for action and wrote to the Treasury with their concerns. Industry bosses say things are so bad they fear a “hidden agenda to drive dentistry out of the NHS”.

Practices are now losing staff due to the abuse they face from fed-up patients, while others cannot make NHS work pay, compounding shortages of appointments.

The BDA and patients watchdog Healthwatch England, backed by the crossparty MPs, are calling for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide funding to clear the backlog and rebuild services.

BDA chair Eddie Crouch said the problems getting appointments mirrored patients unable to see GPs face-to-face.

But while money has been made available to reduce GP backlogs, dentistry was not mentioned in last week’s Budget.

Mr Crouch said: “It’s certainly the worst crisis I have experienced. I have been practising for 37 years and I have never known morale to be so low – and I have never known access problems so widespread.”

Without check-ups, mouth cancers, which kill more people than car accidents, are going undetected until it is too late.

Mr Crouch added: “What my colleagues in secondary care are telling me is the volume of referrals dropped off during the pandemic because there was no one being screened in practices. But the cases they are seeing now are far more advanced with a very much worse prognosis.

“Sadly, quite a lot of people will succumb to oral cancer because they are being picked up at a late stage.” Jacob Lant, of Healthwatch, revealed the number of pleas for help to find an NHS dentist or get treatment has ballooned and accounts for a quarter of its work.

He said: “NHS dentistry is now facing the worst crisis in its history. The state of access is the worst I have ever seen and I don’t see a way back from this quickly without additional resources.”

Mr Crouch added it was “an embarrassment” that people had to resort to DIY dentistry or rely on mobile dentists provided by charity Dentaid, which normally operates in the developing world. He added: “Prior to the pandemic, in Cornwall many people would be 18 months on a waiting list to see an NHS dentist. It’s inevitable that it has doubled.”

He estimates there is now an 18-month wait in Birmingham and a three-year wait in parts of Lincolnshire.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, the lead author of the MPs’ letter, told the Sunday Express: “NHS dentistry is facing a crisis. There are huge backlogs and long waiting lists. This is leading to real problems for overall dental health – routine issues which should be treated quickly and easily are put at the back of the queue but then the issues get worse.

“Patients are left in pain and staff are struggling to cope with demand.

“The Chancellor had an opportunity last week to clearly earmark funding and provide reassurance to the sector.

“Dentistry urgently needs clear support, including a plan for funding. We need support and proper funding.”

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