After closing at the beginning of the pandemic, dental practices re-opened on 8th June 2020. However, patients now face a huge backlog and less appointments. Dentists are unable to see patients at their previous rates due to the increased hygiene standards required to ensure treatment rooms are safe..
Following our initial report on dentistry in May 2021, we continued to hear from local people who were finding it difficult to access dentists. A review of our signposting in the first quarter of this year showed that over 25% of requests for support and information were regarding dentists. Information from Healthwatch England showed that Redbridge was not the only area across the country with dental access issues.
To understand local concerns, we created a survey to gather local feedback. We also conducted a mystery shopping exercise to understand what might happen when a patient rings a dentist wanting an urgent appointment. Additionally, we reviewed patient feedback comments left on the NHS website, online reviews, and individual dental practice websites.
Report: data, findings, and outcomes
The report provides an initial overview of our findings. For further information and data, please refer to the three supplementary reports below, explaining our full findings.
Nationally, it is clear the concerns found by Healthwatch Redbridge are similar to many areas of the country. Our findings and recommendations, therefore, reflect many of the conclusions found within the Healthwatch England dentistry report published in May 2021.
- Better dental access – accessing a local dentist appears extremely difficult for some patients. Almost a third of patients we spoke to had problems getting through to discuss their needs.
- Every person should have access to an NHS dentist – everyone should have their dental needs supported and not be de-registered from a practice list unless appropriate contact is made. It was concerning to hear from some patients that they were unaware that their registration had been removed.
- More support should be available for emergency dental treatment - better emergency support and assistance should be available and clearly signposted for all who need it. Patients should have the right to receive the same level of information and support within all practices. Information must be clear and accessible to all.
- Ensure NHS dental services are transparent and affordable, with appropriate costs explained fully prior to treatment – for many dental patients, the cost of dental care is a major factor in their decision to continue and complete the full course of treatment.
The costs of NHS dental charges are extremely complicated. Costs must be explained fully and implemented appropriately. Patients should also understand when they are being seen as a private patient and agree to the costs associated with that course of treatment.
- Poor dental health can have further health implications - The unavailability of dental treatment may have an impact on a person’s health and wellbeing. The inability to find a dentist or afford treatment can lead to further health complications.
For a patient to attempt their own DIY interventions is not only unacceptable; it could also potentially lead to further medical or dental complications.