An independent health care watchdog has criticized the state of dental services in Bolton after it was announced that one in four NHS dentists in Bolton are leaving their jobs.
Healthwatch is an independent watchdog for people who use health and social services.
It aims to address people’s worries and concerns about the delivery of healthcare in the UK by pressuring the services to make the necessary changes.
Healthwatch Bolton is part of these efforts to make people’s voices heard in healthcare in the UK.
A Healthwatch Bolton spokesperson said: “Healthwatch Bolton is the independent champion for people who use health and social care services in Bolton.
“We are contacted by people seeking to access local health and care services, or who wish to share their experience of using them.”
Healthwatch highlights how extremely difficult it is to access NHS dentists.
The spokesperson said: “Historically, access to NHS dentistry in Bolton was difficult, but with tenacity – ringing around – we often found an NHS dentist who was accepting new patients.
“Now, unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible for people to access NHS dental care.”
Healthwatch Bolton also pointed out how inadequate the search function for finding dentists is.
The spokesperson said: ‘People tell us they have tried to find an NHS dentist by looking at the ‘find a dentist’ search function on the NHS website.
“It frustrates people even more because it is not updated and no NHS dentists are accepting new patients.
“We don’t direct people to this search function because it’s not fit for purpose.”
They also pointed out that residents who contact Healthwatch Bolton are unable to pay for private dental care.
They said: “Private dentistry costs are out of reach for anyone who has contacted Healthwatch Bolton, even more so now with the skyrocketing cost of living.
“People live with pain. When the pain is unbearable, some have even taken out loans or borrowed money from family or friends to pay for private dental care.
They added: “We even had someone ask us how they can get a refund for their national insurance contribution. Lack of access to NHS dentistry is hitting people hard.
Healthwatch Bolton also said funding for the provision of NHS dental care has had no impact in the borough.
They said: “A one-time additional allocation of £50million has been made by the Department of Health to enable more NHS dental appointments to be funded across the country.
“To date, we have seen no improvement in the level of concern reported to Healthwatch Bolton.”
They recognize, however, that this lack of NHS dentistry is a national problem and not just limited to Bolton.
Mohsan Ahmad, dentist and chairman of Greater Manchester Local Dental Network, said: “As in other parts of the country, dentistry in Greater Manchester has come under significant pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the challenges existing.
“We understand this is difficult for those who struggle to access dental care.
“Anyone who needs urgent help and does not have a regular dentist can call the Greater Manchester Dental Helpline on 0333 332 3800.”
He added: “Since the start of the pandemic, the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership has invested in expanding urgent dental services and supporting more vulnerable groups such as children in care and asylum seekers. .”
In reference to issues with the ‘Find a Dentist’ function, the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership states that it is the responsibility of practices providing NHS treatment to maintain accurate information on the website as to whether they accept new patients.
They say they regularly communicate to practices the importance of reviewing and updating this information in order to help patients find a dentist.
READ: A quarter of Bolton dentists have left the NHS
It comes after it was announced that a quarter of dentists in Bolton have left the NHS, with figures showing 25% of practitioners in Bolton left over a 12-month period to March 31, 2021.
It was the second highest drop in England.
If you need urgent dental care, contact Greater Manchester Urgent Dental Care on 0333 332 3800 from 8am to 10pm every day, including weekends and bank holidays. Each visit to the urgent dental service costs £23.80.
If you don’t have pain but need information, visit the Oral Health Foundation website, which has information on maintaining good oral health.