PATIENTS in Oxfordshire are being told they must go private if they want to continue making appointments with their dentist.
Over the past few months, letters have been sent to patients in their NHS dental practices telling them they can no longer be treated unless they go private.
Pam Sylvester, from Bicester, said: “We are currently registered as NHS patients with a dentist in Bicester and have just received letters saying they will not be treating us again unless we go private. Even young people children will have to pay.
“I understand they’re not taking new NHS patients, but forcing us to go private is absurd when we can’t go anywhere else, no one is taking new NHS patients.”
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On top of that, many NHS dentists remove patients from their lists if they haven’t attended an appointment within a set period of time.
A new poll by Healthwatch England, the independent health and social care watchdog, has found around two in five people (41%) have had difficulty making an appointment with an NHS dentist .
Other data shows that six in 10 people seeking dental care across England feel pressured to go private as more than 2,000 dentists have dropped out of NHS work in a year.
Healthwatch has expressed concern that some practices are closing or becoming “completely” private and that significant numbers of patients are having to pay privately to receive treatment.
Healthwatch Oxfordshire said it has received numerous calls and comments online from people and organizations representing marginalized groups across the county about problems finding and accessing NHS dentist services, even in dental emergencies.
The watchdog has learned that contacting NHS111 or local NHS dentists rarely helps, although patients are offered private appointments.
A spokesperson for the watchdog said: “According to the guidelines and standard operating procedures provided to dental practices by the NHS, NHS dental practices should safely provide existing and new patients with appropriate urgent treatment, which can include counseling, pain relief and some other medication.
“Despite these guidelines and the introduction of recent government and NHS England targets requiring dental practices to deliver 45% of their normal activity or lose some of the money given to them by the NHS, problems still exist.
“There are concerns that some NHS dentists are prioritizing routine appointments over more complex or longer treatments.”
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Hugh O’Keeffe, senior director of commissioning at NHS England and NHS Improvement for the South East, told the watchdog: ‘It has been a difficult time for patients and dental practices and there remains a backlog. in the system due to the loss of capacity due to the pandemic.
“There is significant variation in the size of NHS contracts held by practices which will impact the number of patients who can be seen on the NHS.
“All dental practices operate in a mixed economy of NHS and private provision with variations between them in terms of the balance between NHS and private work.”
This story was written by Anna Colivicchi, she joined the team this year and covers health stories for Oxfordshire newspapers.
Contact her by emailing: [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter @AnnaColivicchi