COVID creates crisis in dentistry

Havering is facing a dentistry crisis as at least 100,000 NHS treatments have been missed since the pandemic began.

The British Dental Association (BDA) made the estimate by comparing monthly treatment figures from before and after the pandemic.

Chair of the BDA’s general dental practice committee Shawn Charlwood said NHS dentistry was “underfunded and overstretched” before the pandemic struck.

She added: “Since lockdown, that crisis has reached new levels, with over 100,000 Havering residents missing out on needed care.”

Research carried out by the Healthwatch Havering in October last year found only four of 27 dental surgeries they spoke to were accepting new NHS patients.

That crisis has deepened and the number of surgeries accepting new patients is now “probably zero”, says the local health watchdog’s executive director Ian Buckmaster.

People who did not go for regular check-ups before the pandemic began have been “clobbered”, he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Although Covid rules limit how many patients dentists can treat, there is a more “deep-rooted problem” with the target-based NHS contract system, Ian added.

NHS London say the contract system is not to blame, as surgeries are obliged to give the majority of appointments to NHS patients.

A spokesperson said the difficulty for new NHS patients is the “considerable backlogs” caused by COVID-restrictions and the prioritisation of urgent care.

They added: “NHS England is developing a four-year roadmap to get dental services back on to a normalised setting and we are looking at different ways of directing patients to the right place to get routine or urgent dental services.”

People who cannot find a surgery accepting new NHS patients are advised to call NHS England’s Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233, those needing urgent care should call 111.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter