A health watchdog has highlighted how residents’ health and wellbeing is being “severely affected” by the lack of access to NHS dentistry across England’s largest county as NHS bosses face mounting calls to take action.
Healthwatch North Yorkshire said a study had revealed only two dental practices in the area with a 605,000 population offer NHS treatment to new adult patients, and those surgeries had “significant restrictions on who is allowed to register”.
The concerns have been raised just two months after the government announced the first reforms to the NHS dental contract in 16 years, so that NHS dentists will be paid more for treating more complex cases, such as people who need three fillings or more.
Under the changes 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.
However, Healthwatch North Yorkshire said it remains very concerned over the lack of access to and availability of NHS dentists, which it says “has severely affected the health and wellbeing of people across North Yorkshire, from Scarborough to Selby, to Craven to Harrogate”.
In a report to be presented to North Yorkshire County Council’s Thirsk and Malton constituency committee on Friday, the watchdog said access to information regarding where you can register with an NHS dentist continues
to be poor.
There are also concerns that “urgent problems are often not considered urgent enough, meaning people are living in pain”.
The report found the cost of private treatment is prohibitively expensive for those unable to access NHS dentistry, resulting in a large proportion of people not seeking treatment.
Meanwhile, waiting lists for NHS dentistry in the county can be as long as three years and have more than 1,000 people on them.
The watchdog has found being unable to access an NHS dentist is having a detrimental impact on many people’s mental and physical health.
Healthwatch North Yorkshire has called for greater involvement of the public in NHS dentistry to ensure it meets the needs of the population.
Ashley Green, chief executive of the watchdog, said: “We feel it is now time to act – and to use the upcoming changes to NHS and social care reforms, specifically the emergence of integrated care systems to fuel this change.
“We hear on a weekly basis the struggles of people and families unable to be seen by an NHS dentist, but also the desire by NHS dentists to see and treat their patients more effectively.”
Zafran Majid, who runs Red Lea Dental Practice in Easingwold, said the NHS dentistry funding system needed to be overhauled.
Mr Majid said: “The majority of NHS dentists are doing an excellent job and trying to see as many patients as they possibly can. However, the najority of NHS dentists are overworked, and suffering a lot of stress and anxiety, tiredness and fatigue from their work.”
Councillor Michael Harrison, the county council’s executive member for health, said as long as the NHS dentistry system made it more worthwhile for dentists to work privately then they were likely to take that option.
He said: “Healthwatch North Yorkshire is shining a light on an area which is of great concern to both the council and residents as access to dentistry promotes good health and access to NHS dentistry ensures those unable to afford private care get the support they need.
“Not being able to access an NHS dentist can be a real hardship for people. We are reliant on NHS England and NHS Improvement to support the provision of dentistry across the region, and while it’s a national issue it shows itself to be a bigger issue in certain parts of North Yorkshire.”