Patients taken off NHS dentist registers in Somerset during pandemic now 'can't get back on'

A Somerset dentist has called for the government to address the industry’s NHS contracts - saying they have been ‘chronically underfunded for years’.

The call comes as patients across the county have told ITV News West Country they have been removed from the register at their NHS dentist, having not had appointments during the pandemic, and are now unable to get back on anywhere.

Earlier this week, Healthwatch Somerset claimed people across the whole county were unable to find an NHS dentist.

Esther Angseesing works at Quantock View Dental Centre in North Petherton, which is not taking on any new NHS patients.

Ms Angseesing said while the Covid-19 pandemic has had a big impact towards a patient backlog, dentists need the government to "sort out the NHS dental contract".

She said: “It is very much target-driven. It puts targets ahead of patient care and that is drawing NHS dentists out of the system.

“We need more NHS dentists as a practice. We have actually tried to advertise for another NHS dentist and we were unable to find somebody. So that recruitment is a real challenge.”

Dentist Esther Angseesing says the practice is dealing with a huge backlog of patients Credit: ITV News West Country

The surgery said access to dentistry has been a problem for a few years but the pandemic has exacerbated that.

Ms Angseesing said: “That has generated quite a backlog that's been the equivalent of a year's worth of NHS dentistry. 40 million appointments have been lost in that time so that is going to take several years to clear that backlog.”

Patient group Healthwatch Somerset said residents in the whole county are unable to register as new NHS dentist patients for routine care. It said the situation was so bad the NHS has set up a phone line to help people access emergency dental care.

Amber Packer-Hughes, from Taunton, discovered her dental practice had taken her and her children off the register as they had been unable to secure an appointment during the pandemic. They are now unable to find another practice to register with.

Amber Packer-Hughes, from Taunton, was removed from her dentists' register and now can't find an NHS dentist Credit: ITV News West Country

She said: “Dental health is just as important as other kinds of health and it should be accessible through the NHS to absolutely everybody. You shouldn’t be forced to look at potentially going private.

“There’s so many people that I’ve spoken to in the same boat that thought they were doing the right thing by helping the dentists out and not going for basic, routine checkups and letting other people who have the greatest need go in and then getting taken off the books through no fault of their own.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We’ve given the NHS £50million to fund up to 350,000 extra dental appointments and we are growing the workforce so people can get the oral care they need.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve asked dentists to prioritise available capacity on vulnerable groups and those with an urgent need, while continuing to provide free dental care to groups such as pregnant women, young people, and those on low-income benefits."

A spokesperson for NHS England and NHS Improvement South West said: "It remains up to dental practices to decide when they have capacity to take on new NHS patients and update these details on

“To ensure those with urgent clinical need can access treatment more than 550 additional urgent care appointments are available every month across Somerset.

"To further increase capacity across the South West, we are also working on securing extra high street dental services and establishing a ‘Dental Reform Programme’ to bring together commissioners, professionals and the public to improve service access and boost the recruitment and retention of dentists across the region.”