Suffolk campaigner says there must be NHS dental care for all

Steve Marsling Co coordinator of toothless in Suffolk. Dentaid has come to Leiston to give free dent

Steve Marsling co-coordinator of Toothless in Suffolk.  - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

A dental campaigner has called for the creation of a national NHS dental service that is accessible to all to address a crisis in provision, which has seen many forego treatment or pay to go privately. 

Steve Marsling, co-founder of action group Toothless in Suffolk, said although there would still be NHS dental charges, particularly for check-ups, these would be minimal in comparison to the cost of going privately. 

His appeal followed charity Dentaid bringing its mobile clinic to Leiston for the third time to treat residents who have been without an NHS dentist since April 2021. 

Mark Jones, of Toothless in Suffolk, has called for an NHS dentist for everyone

Campaigners say NHS dentists are hard to find and the system is forcing people to pay privately for treatment - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

During the three visits to the town’s Waterloo Centre - in November 2021 and February and May 2022 - the clinic treated approximately 200 patients. 

A survey by watchdog Healthwatch England of 2,000 adults in England revealed only half had visited an NHS dentist in the last two years, while 41% found it difficult to book an appointment and 20% could not access all the treatments they needed. 

A further 17% felt pressured to pay privately. 

Mr Marsling said the mix of private-to-NHS dental care in this country needed to be 50%-50%, but at the moment was about 80% to 20%. 

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The current NHS contract lay at the heart of the problems, he added, as private dentists were not being paid enough to provide NHS care. 

Bury St Edmunds protest march in October, 2021

Bury St Edmunds protest march in October, 2021 - Credit: Sas Astro

He added: “We are still campaigning for everyone because the private care does not satisfy the needs of Leiston or anywhere. 

“The aim of our campaign is an NHS dentist for all and we are urging the Government to speak to the NHS and change contracts so it is affordable to undertake NHS dental work.” 

In February, NHS England and NHS Improvement announced plans for new practices in Norwich, King’s Lynn and Lowestoft, but not Leiston.  

Data published in January revealed there had been at least a 27% decrease in NHS dentists across Suffolk since 2020, with the Department of Health ranking the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) as the joint third-worst affected in England.   

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "We've given the NHS £50million to fund up to 350,000 extra dental appointments and we are expanding the dentistry workforce so more people can get the oral support they need. 

"We have been working with the sector to safely increase activity and practices are now expected to deliver 95% of the activity they were delivering before the pandemic, which also includes taking on new patients."