Scheme to tackle dental backlog

Dental surgeries could open on weekends, bank holidays and out of hours during a scheme to deal with the huge backlog of patients.

The Mid and South Essex Integrated Care Board has devised the plan to deal with the dire shortage of dentists and backlogs that were created in the Covid pandemic.

If it goes ahead, the plan will see patients given access in-hours, out of hours, weekend and bank holidays for 18 months.

Newly published minutes of a board meeting held in June advised the proposal would first address urgent needs of patients across the region.
Many have been without dental care for months as they struggle to find NHS dentists to take them on.

Owen Richards, chief Officer at Healthwatch Southend, said “This is great news for the residents of Southend. We’ve listened to so many examples of people really struggling to get NHS dental care, made worse by the cost of living crisis.

“We shared these stories with MPs looking at the state of dentistry and are pleased that they listened to us and many other Healthwatch. We need the national contract for dentistry to be fundamentally reviewed, with proper levels of funding, otherwise this welcome pilot won’t have a lasting impact.”

The pilot scheme will then seek to stabilise patients’ conditions and provide them with ongoing support by a dental care practitioner.

The pilot is part of a new plan to improve NHS primary healthcare services in the area where there is a £46.4m deficit.

Healthwatch Southend recently said it is being approached by local people about access “almost every day”.

Mr Richards added: “We will continue to monitor the situation in Southend, sharing this with the Integrated Care Board so they can see the impact.”
It was recently revealed just eight surgeries accepting new adults and children and patients in part of south Essex serving 719,500 people.

The board said it was confident the money for the scheme was available.

The board has yet to release details of how the pilot scheme will be carried out but a spokesman said: “We are looking to start this 1st September 1. We are currently evaluating Expressions of Interest from current primary care dental providers across mid and south Essex, so will not be able to give these details until the process is completed, we expect by mid-August 2023.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter