NHS chiefs have insisted they are doing everything possible to attract NHS dentists to set up in North Yorkshire, after admitting there is a growing backlog of patients awaiting treatment.
After grilling NHS bosses responsible for dentistry across the region, North Yorkshire’s scrutiny of health committee concluded the NHS needs to take “extremely urgent” action to address dire access to services.
The meeting heard although North Yorkshire had traditionally had a stable NHS dentistry market, over the past 12 months practices had started handing back NHS contracts and others had been terminated for failing to provide contracted services.
Of the 100 dentistry NHS contracts in the county that remain, some only take children as NHS patients if their parents pay for private treatment and others that do take adult NHS patients report waiting lists of more than 8,000 patients.
Councillor Tony Randerson told the meeting residents were demanding explanations as to why parents were having to take children as young as six to places such as Middlesbrough and face bills of £100 for check-ups.
While the meeting heard tooth decay issues were closely linked to deprivation,
Cllr Randerson said the largest and most deprived housing estate in the county, Eastfield near Scarborough, had recently lost its last dental practice.
He called on the county council to put pressure on the government to improve access to NHS dentistry.
Cllr Randerson said: “The government has got a responsibility to look after not only the small few that can afford private treatment, but everybody. It is a duty of care. This on top of the pandemic is being seen as a double whammy for the residents of Eastfield.
“It’s absolutely criminal that these people are having to travel as far away as Hull or Leeds if they are fortunate enough to get an appointment, and not necessarily NHS appointments. This cannot be allowed to go on.”
The meeting heard patients in other parts of the county were also finding it impossible to find a practice offering NHS dentistry and that the access situation had been grave in some areas for many years.
NHS dentistry commissioner Debbie Pattinson told members due to nationally imposed pandemic restrictions practices were continuing to operate at about 60 per cent capacity. She emphasised practices had been asked to prioritise those in need of urgent care.
She said: “We’ve got a growing backlog, a growing number of people who want a regular check up and cant get one.
“It is unprecedented. We’ve not known anything like it in North Yorkshire with the contracts coming back.”
However, she added NHS bosses were working to manage “public perceptions”. She said: “Dentistry isn’t free. It is a subsidised service.”
Ms Pattinson said finding replacement practices was proving difficult, as due to Covid-19 restrictions, “nobody wants to take on more activity”.
Nevertheless, she said the NHS hoped to have commissioned some out of hours urgent care appointments on Saturdays at a number of different clinics in bigger towns across North Yorkshire by the beginning of October.
To target inequality, North Yorkshire and Humber Local Dental Network chairman Simon Hearnshaw said the NHS was looking at introducing a dentistry programme for children linking a practice to a school, supporting supervised brushing, increasing fluoride, and supporting access to care.
He added the NHS was “trying extremely hard” to improve provision, which included examining incentivising practices to set up in areas of county with no NHS dental cover.