'Pandemic pushes NHS dentistry to crisis point'

A new report from Healthwatch England includes the case study of a Berkshire patient.
Photo of dentist and patient

A Berkshire woman’s story has illustrated the national problem people have had in getting NHS dental care during the pandemic.

Her story (see case study, below) was shared by Healthwatch England in its new report highlighting a 452% rise in calls and complaints about dentistry this summer.

Healthwatch England chair, Sir Robert Francis QC (pictured, left), said: “The COVID-19 crisis has impacted on many areas of NHS support but, problems in dental care appear to be particularly acute.”

Berkshire case study

Laura Floyd, from West Berkshire, was part-way through significant dental treatment when it was cancelled due to the lockdown in March. The new mother explained: “As we went from April to May, I had an abscess develop on the tooth which was still awaiting treatment. I did receive care over the phone and a course of antibiotics which helped ease some of the pain and swelling but this never fully went away, I just lived with it cautiously as I could. Sadly my eight-month-old wasn’t as cautious when reaching out and grabbing my face!”

Laura, who was entitled to free NHS dental care for 12 months after the birth of her child, did then receive some emergency treatment for a further painful cavity but is still waiting for her main treatment to be completed a year on from her initial diagnosis.  She added: “My free dental care is due to end next month, and I am still awaiting treatment which is frustrating as this is yet another thing taken away from me this year by COVID-19. I know I am not the only one waiting to be seen, but this also means the chances of getting an appointment to finish my treatment before the exemption expires is unlikely.”

Healthwatch England said when dental practices reopened in June 2020, some appeared to be prioritising private patients over NHS ones.

Inaccurate and out-of-date information from NHS 111, the NHS website and practices’ own websites, also forced people to telephone many different practices directly in an effort to try and find a dentist willing to accept them.

However, Healthwatch also received praise for dental staff, with some dental practices providing videos to their patients to help them understand pandemic-related processes and arranging the delivery of medications and dental repair kits to patients they were unable to see.

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