Healthwatch England, the NHS body representing patients, has said that people with dental issues are finding it difficult to get treatment saying the problem was made worse by the rising cost of living and needed to be addressed urgently.
The watchdog also added that some people were living in pain, unable to speak or eat properly, because they could not access treatment. It went further to say that the poor are suffering more because they were not able to pay for private dentistry.
Healthwatch England said the issue was dividing the rich and the poor thus creating a two-tier system and called on the government to take necessary action to address the situation.
Louise Ansari of Healthwatch England said, “There is now a deepening crisis, with millions of households bearing the brunt of the escalating living costs, private treatment is simply not an option – and even NHS charges can be a challenge. This needs urgent attention.”
The government on its own part has stated that it was increasing investment in services to improve access while also trying to reform the system.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care added ministers were showing commitment to addressing the issues.
‘I’m in constant pain’
Ryan Hermann says he is in constant pain since one of his fillings gave way two years ago during the first pandemic-enforced lockdown. He has since found it difficult to access urgent dental care for his issue.
During the lockdown, dentists were close so he managed to hold on but when the pain became unbearable, he went to an emergency service and was given a temporary filling.
Later on, that filling fell out and when dental services became fully operational, he couldn’t find an NHS dentist within the area who was willing to accept new patients. Recently, he moved from London to Wiltshire but hasn’t been able to register at a new practice.
This is what he said, “Tooth pain sends you mad, you feel irritable, can’t relax and are constantly on edge. I’m angry – really angry. If I had money, I could afford private treatment next week. It feels like we’re being told, if you’re poor -you’re not worthy of treatment.”
This recent alarm raised by Healthwatch England is coming after the NHS body commissioned a survey of more than 2,000 adults in England. The survey, alongside feedback from local NHS teams was then studied.
The poll found around half of those surveyed had visited an NHS dentist in the past two years.
- 41% said it had been difficult to book an appointment
- 20% said they could not access all the treatments they required
- 17% felt pressured to pay privately
Of the number that had not seen an NHS dentist, many either did not need treatment, decided not to go see a dentist or were prepared to pay for private dental care.
However, 21% (more than a fifth), said they had wanted to get NHS treatment but had not been able to find any dental services within their locality.
The British Dental Association said there had not been enough funding for NHS dentistry for the past 10years calling the current contract “dysfunctional”, because it did not provide sufficient reward for treating patients.
BDA chair Shawn Charlwood added: “Shameful inequalities are set to widen. For over a decade these services have been running on empty, with patients paying more just so the Treasury can pay less. Choices made by the government mean dentists are now walking away from the NHS.”
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