Norton dentist turning hundreds away weekly warns NHS dentistry is 'dead in the water'

The Labour party claims 97% of NHS dental surgeries in our region are not taking on new adult patients. Credit: PA

A North East dentist is warning NHS dentistry is "dead in the water" and says he is having to turn hundreds of new patients away every week.

Paul Woodhouse, managing partner of Grange Dental Practice, told ITV Tyne Tees he agreed with a report published on Tuesday 19 December which found the service was in the "most perilous position in its 75-year history".

The report by independent think tank Nuffield Trust was released as a separate survey by the Labour party claimed 97% of NHS dental surgeries in our region are not taking on new adult patients.

Mr Woodhouse said the ability for practices to take on adult NHS patients had been "virtually wiped out", adding: "It (NHS dentistry) is dead in the water. The only thing keeping it going is the ethical and moral fibre of those dentists providing NHS care.

"They are losing money treating NHS patients every single day."

The Nuffield Trust's report claims there is a "widespread crisis" in NHS dentistry due to a lack of funding, the pandemic and widening inequalities in oral health.

Its analysis found total spending for dental services was £3.1 billion in 2021 - 2022, a decline of £525 million since 2014 - 2015.

Mr Woodhouse said the situation was forcing him to turn away hundreds of people seeking dental care every week.

'The reality of the situation is we just can't accommodate everybody'

The dentist of 23 years told ITV Tyne Tees that having to say no was "horrendous" and was creating further problems.

"The girls who sit behind my front desk get abused on a fairly regular basis because people are so desperate for care they become unreasonable," he continued.

"And when they're told no for the fifteenth or sixteenth time, they do get angry, they do get stressed and it's a horrible position for them to be in.

"We don't like saying no, but the reality of the situation is we just can't accommodate everybody."

Earlier this month, Hartlepool's health and wellbeing board heard concerns around access to dental care.

Christopher Akers-Belcher, of Healthwatch Hartlepool, cited patients' stories about "people pulling out their own teeth" while another councillor raised concerns about dental health among children.

And Darlington MP Peter Gibson raised his constituents' access concerns in Parliament on 5 December.

Mr Woodhouse said anecdotes of people resorting to DIY dentistry was "becoming more and more prevalent" and labelled it as "frankly ludicrous in a first world country".

The dentist added that the system would not improve without "drastic change".

"There's not enough money in the system," he explained. "There's not enough people doing NHS dentistry.

"There's more and more dental practices leaving the NHS because it's not paying well enough to keep your business viable and open if you accept NHS patients."

The Nuffield Trust report recommends a number of short and long-term measures for the Government to consider.

These include increasing the intervals between routine check-ups to one year and recruiting dental therapists from the private sector to investing in preventative care for young people and targeted work in schools and care homes.

In the long-term, the Nuffield Trust called for the introduction of a fee-for-service payment model and student loans forgiveness scheme for dentists.

  • Leonora Merry, director of communications for the Nuffield Trust, outlines some of the think tank's report recommendations

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are making progress to boost NHS dental services and compared to the previous year 1.7 million more adults and 800,000 more children are receiving NHS dental care.

“We fund more than £3 billion of NHS dentistry a year and are taking preventative measures to improve oral health, such as expanding water fluoridation schemes. We have also announced plans to increase dental training places by 40% and recently ran a consultation to better utilise the skills of dental hygienists and therapists.

“Further measures to improve access and increase the number of NHS dentists through our dental recovery plan will be set out shortly."

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