Only two NHS dental practices in Peterborough are currently registering patients.
NHS England could only name two practices - one in Werrington Village and one in Eye - where people can register, meaning some people may be forced to either commute across the city, look outside Peterborough or go private.
Peterborough already has a problem with children’s tooth decay, with nearly a third of five-year-olds in the city (32.4 per cent) having one or more decayed, missing or filled teeth, compared to 23.3 per cent nationally.
Moreover, the percentage of five-year-olds free from dental decay is 67.6 per cent in Peterborough, compared to 76.7 per cent nationally.
The Peterborough Telegraph contacted NHS England, which commissions dentistry services, initially about provision for children after speaking to Zoe Wright who was unable to register her granddaughter Elodie Palmer (3) from Cardea.
Zoe told the PT: “My daughter initially tried to register my granddaughter with her own dentist but was advised that there was no availability to register her there.
“She then tried calling other dentists and was met with the same response. She checked the NHS England site and could see there were none available. I rung the NHS site and was advised Peterborough did have issues and the nearest places available were Warboys, Somersham or St Ives.
“Although this is not ideal for us - we are able to get there - my concern is for the families that cannot get there and therefore cannot access dental services for their children.”
At this point Zoe contacted the PT which in turn contacted NHS England. The health body said two practices in Peterborough are registering children - mydentist in Church Street, Werrington Village, and Eye Dental Care in High Street, Eye.
It was only when speaking to Healthwatch that the PT was made aware there are only two Peterborough dental practices registering patients of any age. Zoe added: “We have managed to register with one of these settings which is a relief.”
Rachel Webb, director of primary care and public health at NHS England and Improvement in the East of England, said: “We are actively exploring the future options for dental services in the Peterborough area, both in the short and the longer term, and are currently in discussions with a number of dental providers.
“Dental practices constantly review their patient lists so it is worth regularly checking back with practices in the area. Anyone who needs help to find local dental services should visit www.nhs.uk or use the NHS 111 service.”
Cllr Kim Aitken, chair of Peterborough City Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee, said: “We were concerned to hear about the lack of NHS dental practices in Peterborough taking on new patients.
“We were told that dental practices can open and close their patient lists at any time without having to notify NHS England. As a consequence of no appointments, the Peterborough Access Centre has been overloaded and at times has had no alternative but to turn people away.
“Representatives of NHS England and NHS Improvement came to our committee and put forward a number of recommendations to improve the quality of the service in Peterborough. As a committee we will continue to review the outcomes of those recommendations.”
The provision of dental services in Peterborough was criticised in a report issued by Healthwatch in January.
The health group revealed 6,635 patients were turned away in Peterborough between April 2017 and March 2018, with reports of people being removed from their NHS dentist’s list without notification and dental staff worried about the number of children with tooth decay.
The report said urgent treatment at the Peterborough Dental Access Centre in Midgate was booked up rapidly every day, with patients left “upset and angry because they were in pain”.
Some patients had tried ringing for an appointment for several days and not succeeded.
Three in every five people Healthwatch spoke to said they were not currently under the care of an NHS dentist.
Healthwatch chief executive Sandie Smith (pictured) said: “Since our report was published NHS England has increased the number of appointments available at the Dental Access Centre in Peterborough. This increase is temporary whilst they look at the problems with access to dental care.
“It is concerning that people are still having problems accessing NHS dental care services in Peterborough.
“Whilst we are pleased that there is some extra short term funding in place to help reduce the level of waits for urgent and out of hours’ dental care, the system still needs to be fixed.”