'It's ridiculous' - Patients' anger as thousands can't get an NHS dentist
PUBLISHED: 07:31 21 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:14 21 November 2019
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NHS patients have hit out over a lack of dental care in Suffolk and north Essex - with some forced to travel several miles and others facing long waits for treatment.
The British Dental Association estimates thousands of people across both counties have been unable to secure care, in what it described as an "access crisis".
What's the situation in our region?
In the Ipswich and East Suffolk area, it claims there are nearly 12,000 people who have unsuccessfully tried to secure an NHS appointment. In West Suffolk, the figure is 11,026, compared with 7,734 in north east Essex and 6,762 in mid Essex.
The BDA claims the figures, based on the NHS GP Survey, reflect the "perfect storm" facing patients - blaming budget cuts, contract failure and staffing problems. NHS bosses said they are working to improve services across the region.
"These access problems are no longer affecting a few 'hotspots', but are now the reality for millions," said the BDA's Dave Cottam.
"The public are entitled to access care, but the system is stacked against them.
"They face practices struggling to fill vacancies, NHS charges designed to discourage attendance, while our contracts cap patient numbers."
What do patients have to say?
Emma Swift, who is diabetic, is supposed to have a dentist to monitor her condition but she hasn't had one since the family moved to Manningtree.
She said: "I have been trying to get registered for at least a year and they are fully booked."
Danielle Gibbs, from Bury St Edmunds, said she has to travel to Newmarket for her appointments.
And Cherish Green, from Sudbury, is also struggling to find a surgery accepting new NHS patients: "The NHS website suggests which ones are taking new patients on, however, after visiting/calling, you find out that they aren't."
Long waits 'ridiculous'
Carol Spencer said her dentist went private, so she stayed on, and found it easier than using an NHS practice, while Angela Hart, also from Sudbury, said her dental practice is great, but said "having to wait seven months for a check up is ridiculous".
The BDA has called on politicians to address the issues, arguing that NHS dentistry is operating on a budget that has remained largely static for too long, but with patients contributing a greater share each year through increasing NHS charges.
What did NHS bosses have to say?
Dental services in our region are monitored by NHS England.
Rachel Webb, director of primary care in the east, said: "NHS England and Improvement is committed to ensuring everyone is able to access high quality dental care, and we regularly monitor and review access to dental services in the area. We are working closely with local dental networks and dental providers across the region to improve services, both in the short and the long term.
"Anyone who needs help to find local dental services should visit www.nhs.uk or use the NHS 111 service.
"Should you need urgent or emergency dental care, NHS 111 can be used for advice on where to go."
An NHS England spokesman added: "Nine out of ten people can get access to a dentist if they want one and, where there is shortfall, the NHS is actively working with local teams to help anyone having difficulty to find a dentist.
"The NHS is also working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the oral health profession to test new ways of providing dental services with an increased focus on improving oral health as well as increasing access to dental services."