NHS Dental Patients Are Being Forced to Wait for up to Three Years for an Appointment

NHS dental surgery waiting lists have gotten so long that patients are being forced to wait until 2024 for an appointment, according to a new report. Waiting lists were long before 2020, and have only been made worse by lockdowns. Some people, unable to wait in pain, have gone into debt to meet private dentistry bills, while others have turned to pulling their teeth out themselves and performing “DIY fillings”. The Mail has the story.

A number of surgeries have thousands on their waiting lists and others have closed their books to new patients.

But some of the same practices will offer an appointment within a week to those who can afford to pay privately, according to research by Healthwatch England.

It found that one in three patients have felt pressured into paying for private care because of unbearable pain. Others say they have been driven into debt to meet dentistry bills.

Those who are unable to go private can be left waiting for up to three years to be seen, the report finds. Even emergency care entails waits of up to six weeks.

The delays can lead to “worsening of their dental problems and losing their teeth”, the report says. Healthwatch England claims public opinion of NHS dentistry has never been lower and highlights a “twin crisis” of lack of access and affordability. 

The number of dental surgeries offering NHS treatment fell from 9,661 in 2014/15 to 8,408 in 2019/20. The British Dental Association said dentistry was the only part of the NHS operating on a lower budget than a decade ago.

Spokesman Shawn Charlwood said: “For too long meaningful reform of NHS dentistry has been repeatedly kicked down the road. Covid has pushed a system already in crisis to breaking point, with millions left with no options.”

The Healthwatch England report highlights the case of a patient who needed hospital treatment after they overdosed on the painkillers they were taking to ease their dental problems.

Others have been told to use DIY filling kits or have been prescribed antibiotics with no prospect of a follow-up appointment to treat the underlying problem.

Some who called NHS 111 seeking emergency care were told to “use salt water” and carry on calling dental practices until they could find help. Waiting times just to get through to a surgery can be over an hour…

Four in five of those who contacted the organisation in the first three months of the year said they had struggled to access care quickly enough. And the number of complaints it received about dentistry was up 22% on last year.

Worth reading in full.

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