A dearth of NHS dentists in Banbury is causing a huge headache for patients. Professionals are ‘walking away from a broken system’.
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The Banbury Guardian has received a number of complaints and appeals for help from patients left with painful problems because there are no accessible NHS dentists in town.
The Integrated Care Board (ICB) sent the newsdesk an online list of NHS dentists, but for pregnant patient Paula Pasnik – who qualifies for free dental care on the NHS - it has been a dead end with the only available NHS dentist saying their list had hundreds of patients before her.
Ms Pasnik, of Banbury, has an infected root canal which has been causing her pain for a long time. Her dentist, Cornhill Dental Surgery, said they could not treat her as an NHS patient.
After the Banbury Guardian wrote to the surgery they gave Ms Pasnik an emergency appointment where she was given a course of antibiotics. But the surgery said it could not treat her further on the NHS.
"The dentist put me on antibiotics for seven days. She said I need get the tooth filled or extracted quickly or it would infect the surrounding teeth,” she said. “But I can’t get that on the NHS - I would have to go private and it will cost £650, which I don’t have. I work part time but I am on Universal Credit.
"We all pay our taxes and everything is so expensive. Soon it will be like America and we won’t be able to go and see the GP without paying. They're not bothered.
"I called Damira Dental Studios, the Banbury NHS dentist on the Integrated Care Board’s list, but they told me they had 300 other NHS patients waiting and I am in pain."
All other surgeries in Banbury will only take children under 17 or patients referred from other surgeries. But Ms Pasnik says they will not make a referral.
The ICB said before the pandemic ,50 per cent of people attended a local dentist, 30 per cent used a private practice and 20 per cent went only when they were in pain. Dentists were forced to close during the pandemic and a significant backlog of treatments built up, they say.
“Access has been improving since early 2022 (up by about 20 per cent), but it is mainly patients who attended regularly, being recalled. As many of these patients had gaps in dental attendance (more than two years in many cases) their oral health had deteriorated and treatment plans have taken longer to complete. Dental practices operate within cash-limited financial allocations within which they have to deliver an agreed level of activity each year.
"The increased time required for more complex treatments has reduced the capacity for practices to see new patients.”
It is understood a number of dentists has left the NHS. The British Dental Association said this was because of government demands for numbers seen and inadequate payment.
Changes were made to the national contract to increase payments for more complex cases and allow dentists to deliver more activity on NHS. In the South-East, practices were invited to provide extra sessions to support patients get urgent dental care. However, there was no take-up of this scheme in Oxfordshire mainly due to the workforce challenges, the ICB said.
‘Flexible Commissioning’ has been designed to allow dentists to re-use resources already available, by converting some of their activity targets to ‘access sessions’, set aside for patients who have had more difficulties getting care. Of 3,000 patients under the scheme 354 were from Banbury.
Patients under the access scheme still have to pay. Those exempt through, for example, pregnancy or being on benfits, cannot get treatment urgently in Banbury.See www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-dentist
The British Dental Association said: “Latest official figures show there is no prospect of NHS dentistry bouncing back to pre-COVID levels without radical and urgent change. Limited gains in the last year will not take the edge of an ever-growing backlog as patients present with higher levels of need - the result of ongoing access problems.”
The recent Health and Social Care Committee inquiry described the state of the service as ‘totally unacceptable in the 21st century’, setting out fundamental changes centred on reform of the dysfunctional (Government) contract.
Chair Eddie Crouch said: “We’re seeing the limits on the recovery and this government’s ambition. Demoralised dentists are walking away from a broken system, while millions struggle to access the care they need.
“NHS dentistry can come back from the brink, but only if Ministers turn the page.”
Banbury MP Victoria Prentis said: “I am very aware of the challenges NHS dentistry is facing in our area and across the country more generally. Having heard from a number of constituents who have faced significant difficulties seeing their dentist, I have written to the Integrated Care Board for Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West to raise my own concerns.
"They have told me that people should contact NHS England’s Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 22 33 for assistance or contact NHS 111 if they need urgent care.
“It is clear that work needs to be done. Improving our dentistry service remains one of the Secretary of State for Health’s top priorities. The Government is committed to publishing their Dentistry Recovery Plan shortly which will focus on improving access, particularly for new patients. In the meantime, I would encourage all those who are experiencing problems to contact me directly and I will do my best to help.”