Funding increase to tackle NHS dentist shortage in Cambridgeshire

Bosses at Healthwatch say they will increase funding for access to a dentist. Picture: ARCHANT

Bosses at Healthwatch say they will increase funding for access to a dentist. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Bosses at Healthwatch say they will increase funding for access to a dentist after a report revealed how hard it is to get an appointment in Wisbech and Peterborough.

Sara Hurley, the chief dental officer of England, has promised action in the wake of the updated report.

She said: "There is clear and compelling evidence regarding not only the health benefits, but fiscal dividends to investing in oral health.

"I will be launching a major new initiative to survey the dental profession - frontline staff and providers - the findings of which will inform the development of new performance and quality standards in dental care throughout the UK."

The January Healthwatch Cambridgeshire & Peterborough report was part of that initiative, and while it highlighted problems obtaining access to NHS dental care in our area, the outline findings resonate throughout the country.

Speaking at the Healthwatch board of directors meeting (September 11), Caroline Tyrrell-Jones, communities programme manager, said: "While we were delighted to hear that the chief dental officer has approved our report, the key outcomes are the recommendations for improving access to NHS dentistry.

"As a direct result of our report NHS England have increased funding for the Dental Access Centre's in our area, leading up to a general review of the services available.

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"In addition, we have been delighted to see new initiatives to improve child oral health which is particularly poor in Peterborough, where tooth extractions in the under-five age group reached an all-time high in 2018.

"Some of this is due to the sugar-rich diet children have today, but a lot can be directed at poor parenting skills, not teaching their children the importance of dental care at a young age, and the lack of dental nurses found in schools these days, something that would've been common-place in the past."

Ms. Tyrrell-Jones added: "Our report highlighted the fact that many people did not know that formally registering with an NHS dental practice is no longer possible and hasn't been so since April 2006."

However, some of the reports' findings have led directly to recommendations from NHS England, not the least of which has been the introduction of child dental health care fun-packs being distributed at dentists and in schools, so that parents and teachers can educate children that cleaning their teeth can be fun.

The report also recommends that NHS England and the NHS improvement dental strategy group urgently review the need for dental services in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and react to the areas of greatest demand.

Cambridgeshire has the lowest percentage of five-year children free from dental decay in the East of England at 87.1 per cent, with Peterborough second lowest in the region at 67.6 per cent.

Ms. Tyrrell-Jones said: "Healthwatch is helping to ensure this problem is addressed, but especially among the minority groups where oral health and dental health education is general is at its lowest.

"All health visitors will now be providing families with a tooth-brushing pack at the twelve-month health visitor check.

"Of course one of the key issues being looked at are incentives being offered to train or recruit more dentists and dental nurses, and most importantly of all retaining them in our area.

"But it doesn't help that the East of England is the only area in the United Kingdom that doesn't have a specialist dental health care training facility."

One of the outcomes of the Healthwatch research was that dental care information on the NHS website and on most dental practices is out of date, unclear and often inaccurate.

This is now been looked at as well, and reviews of the information on all dental sites will be updated and, if needed, re-written to ensure accurate information for the public.

Sara Hurley, chief dental officer of England has also initiated the 'Starting Well' programme, aimed specifically at the under-threes to ensure that they have access to the very best oral hygiene possible at a local level.

Val Moore, chair of healthwatch Cambridgeshire & Peterborough in thanking Caroline Tyrrell-Jones and her team for all their hard work, said: "It is pleasing to have confirmation that NHS England are reviewing their approach to commissioning dentistry and trailing new forms of contracts to retain dentists and dental nurses in our region.

"Improved information, coupled with re-education of parents to explain the importance of continuing oral care at home is vital to the success of this initiative.

"It is no good if our dentists tell our children one thing, but the parents don't carry this through at home every morning, after every meal and just before bed at night.

"We at Healthwatch are very proud of this report and the attention it has been given in the media, but we need to continue to gather experiences and feed these back to the NHS England commissioners, as well as observing where the information that is available can be improved."

Both the original Healthwatch Report on Finding a Dentist in Peterborough & Wisbech, and the latest findings report are available online at: or by calling Healthwatch on 0330 355 1285.