Dentist blames 'appalling' lack of NHS appointments on government funding
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A dentist in Suffolk frustrated at an "appalling" lack of appointments for NHS patients has slammed the government for failing to fund an "already crumbling service".
There have been complaints over a "huge inequality in the availability of NHS dental care" after towns like Leiston lost all their NHS practices.
In one horror story, a frustrated patient in desperate pain from an abscess was driven to trying to extract their own teeth - because of growing problems trying to find an NHS dentist.
The NHS has confirmed a procurement process for new dental services, which would provide routine and urgent appointments for adults and children in Suffolk by summer next year, is now under way.
But one Suffolk dentist, who asked to remain anonymous, said there was a "huge underfunding of this vital service" - and said their practice was making a £2,000 a month loss on its NHS contract.
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The dentist said some working for the NHS had seen a 40% drop in their income in real terms over the past decade, yet had been given no support.
"Many dentists frustrated with this behaviour have simply given up on NHS dentistry," the dentist said.
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"It is appalling that people are struggling to have access to a vital service and it could lead to children never seeing a dentist.
"I applaud Andy Yacoub’s sterling efforts to raise the issues relating to NHS dentistry but the blame must sit with the inability of the Department of Health to secure new contractual arrangements with a view to incentivising dentists to consider continuing to provide access to NHS dental services."
Mr Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, has warned of a "dental disaster" - saying that the watchdog hears "daily from people struggling to access the support and treatment they, or their children and family, need".
He added: "We’ve seen a number of dentists in our county shut down or transition into full private practice, leaving thousands of people with no access to local dental care."
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Dental practices have been able to deliver their full range of face-to-face care since last June, with over 700 practices providing additional emergency dental treatment.
“In July, it was confirmed dentists would receive a 3% pay increase. The government continues to support the dental sector and we are working closely with the health service to increase access to NHS dental care as fast as possible.“
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter has also written to the new chief executive of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, urging her to address the problem.
"Over recent months I have been contacted by many concerned constituents in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich who have all experienced difficulties accessing NHS dental treatment," he wrote.
In particular, he highlighted how practice closures and changes in services "has placed a significant strain on the remaining practices in my constituency, meaning that current patients are finding it more difficult to make appointments".
He added that: "Many have found themselves unable to access NHS dental care at all."
Readers have also vented their frustration at their difficulties in getting NHS appointments.
One said: "All surgeries I have contacted in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Stowmarket, Needham Market and Woodbridge are not currently accepting new NHS patients.
"I am a pensioner on Pension Credit, which theoretically entitles me to free dental treatment under the NHS.
"My weekly income is £160, so I'm hardly in a position to pay for private treatment.
"There must be quite a large number of adults on low incomes with no access to dentistry."
Another, who had moved from Cambridge to Felixstowe, was unable to find a dentist in Suffolk and had to stick with their previous dentist - meaning a 140-mile round trip for a check-up.
What are your experiences of trying to find an NHS dentist? Write, giving your full contact details, to firstname.lastname@example.org