Dental services in Fenland hit crisis point with long delays for appointments and even Wisbech emergency clinic turns away 100 patients a week

Healthwatch Cambridgeshire says the NHS dental service cannot meet demand in Fenland. Picture: HEALT

Healthwatch Cambridgeshire says the NHS dental service cannot meet demand in Fenland. Picture: HEALTHWATCH CAMBRIDGESHIRE - Credit: Archant

Dental services in the Fens have hit crisis point amid stories like that of a two year old girl with a broken tooth whose mother could not get her an appointment, a report says.

Thousands of patients are being turned away from the emergency Wisbech Dental Access Centre, where staff says demand exceeds commissioned capacity, despite people suffering significant pain, the report adds.

The problem is so bad that healthcare providers are considering launching an eastern region dental school to tackle a shortfall in NHS dentists and dental nurses and “significant problems with recruitment”.

A report by Healthwatch Cambridgeshire found that the Wisbech Dental Access Centre turned away 3,028 people in a six month period between April and September 2018.

That equates to 116 people a week.

“Children do not have any priority in the system, unless they have additional needs or are referred by another healthcare professional,” the report says.

“Poor transport links in the Fenland area can make getting to the dental access centres and dental practices difficult for patients without a car.

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“One patient said their dentist is in the March area which means two buses and a taxi to get there.”

Staff said they see many non English speaking children under four years old with “very poor teeth due to the lack of oral health education and children given sugary drinks, often grazing on sugary foods”.

Three in five people are not under the care of an NHS dentist, the report says, and some people are being removed from their NHS dentist lists after missing just one appointment.

Dr Neil Modha of Peterborough told Healthwatch: “There is clearly not adequate access to urgent dental care in our area.

“Primary care is often asked to manage these conditions without the expertise.

“There is also not enough language assistance for Eastern European people to navigate the system.”

Figures from A&E in Peterborough show that 37 people a month visited for dental issues but the report says that “most of these people would have been better cared for by a routine or emergency dentist”.

Formal registration with an NHS dentist ended in 2006, the report says, and patients only remain in a practice while receiving ongoing care. A dental practice is not obliged to provide ongoing care.

“The dental workforce is not adequate to meet needs,” the report says.

“We observed significant problems for people seeking both routine and emergency dental services in both Peterborough and Fenland.

“Negative impacts of poor dental health are reported. These all mean an increased cost to the NHS and the wider care system.

“The issues of childhood tooth decay and prioritising preventative oral education have become very pressing indeed.”