Swathes of Cumbria are becoming dental wastelands as NHS dentistry teeters on the brink of collapse.
The Cumberland News analyzed the records of nearly 60 dental practices across Cumbria and found that none were clearly open to adult NHS patients – and only one was open to children.
Carlisle, Whitehaven and Workington are among the areas where it appears no dental practices are currently accepting NHS patients without a referral.
MPs from across the country took part in a parliamentary debate on access to NHS dentistry in June.
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They shared horror stories of people pulling their teeth out, lingering on waiting lists for years and being left in agony.
And in Cumbria, anyone in a similar situation is likely to struggle to access treatment according to the NHS Find a Dentist service.
A spokesperson for the British Dental Association said an “unprecedented collapse in NHS commitment” among dentists could spell the end of the service without drastic and urgent government action.
The BDA believe thousands of dentists across the country have walked away from NHS work altogether since the pandemic began.
N&S analysis of North Cumbria CCG statistics revealed a drop of almost a third in ‘dental business units’ achieved between the second quarter of 2018-19 and the same period in 2021-22.
This incorporates a 46% drop in Band 1 treatments, typically associated with routine care and checkups.
The recent decline of NHS dentistry has been linked to health service contracts which see dentists paid the same per unit of work – no matter how complex that job.
Shawn Charlwood of the BDA said: ‘This government has ensured that many dentists do not see a future in this service.
“Without urgent reform and adequate funding, there is little hope that we can stop this exodus.”
He added: “Problems with access remain the norm, inequalities in oral health are set to widen, while increasing numbers of dentists are moving away from the NHS.
“This is how NHS dentistry will die – a continuing decline that is unchecked will leave millions of patients with no options.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said it was working with the NHS to reform the dental system and was negotiating improvements to its contract with the BDA to increase patient access and ensure work in the NHS remains attractive to dentists.
He added: “The NHS spends around £3billion on dentistry every year and last year we provided a further £50million to fund up to 350,000 extra dental appointments.”
Dental practices are scrambling to address workforce issues and increase capacity during a period of high demand, an NHS spokesperson has said.
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