Thousands of patients in Peterborough have been denied dental treatment due to a shortage of dentists.
Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Healthwatch Peterborough has revealed 6,635 patients were turned away in Peterborough between April 2017 and March 2018.
The independent health organisation said it had heard reports of people being removed from their NHS dentist’s list without notification, and that dental staff are concerned about rising numbers of children with tooth decay.
A new report published yesterday follows visits to the dental access centres in Peterborough and Wisbech.
It reveals that urgent treatment at the Peterborough Dental Access Centre in Midgate is 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.
One person told Healthwatch: “I was taken off my dentist’s register without notification because I missed an appointment, then had to ring several dental practices and they are all full.”
Dental practices can end the treatment plan for patients if they miss an appointment without telling them.
Healthwatch found that children do not have any priority in the system unless they have additional needs and are referred by another healthcare professional.
One person told the organisation: “My two-year old daughter has a broken tooth, but I cannot find anyone who will register her.”
In 2017/18 there were 657 tooth extractions for children under general anaesthesia in Peterborough alone, with a further 116 extractions using nitrous oxide. The children who lost their teeth were mostly aged between three and 12 years.
Dentistry services are commissioned by NHS England.
Dental access centres are run by Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust.
In its conclusion, Healthwatch stated: “We observed significant problems for people seeking both routine and emergency dental services in both Peterborough and Fenland.”
A spokesperson for NHS England Midlands and East (East) said: “NHS England will be carefully considering the findings of this report by Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Healthwatch Peterborough.
“We are committed to ensuring everyone is able to access high quality dental care, and we are working closely with dental providers in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to improve services, both in the short and the long term.”
Julia Hallam-Seagrave, head of dental healthcare, Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust, said: “We are passionate about the dental services we deliver and it is pleasing to read in the Healthwatch report that patients welcomed the high quality and caring nature of the service we provide.
“Our dental access centre in Peterborough is delivering over and above the level of urgent dental care that we are funded to provide. We recognise that local residents cannot always access urgent care from either a registered dentist or our own dental access centres in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
“The number of people attending our dental access centres has significantly increased, mainly due to the difficulties people are experiencing in accessing a registered high street dentist. We will continue to work with our funding body to improve accessibility of dental services.”
Healthwatch said on top of the 6,635 patients turned away in Peterborough between April 2017 and March 2018, 2,750 were turned away in Wisbech and 2,699 in Huntingdon.
It added that from April 2018 to September 2018, 3,694 patients were turned away in Peterborough.
Healthwatch has a legal right to visit places that provide publicly funded health or adult social care services to see and hear how people experience those services.
Reporting on its visits to the Peterborough Dental Access Centre, it said: “We observed people coming in to try and get an urgent appointment but then being turned away. They were given all other dental access centre information and NHS 111 options and advised about pain relief over the weekend.
“Sometimes this made them very upset and angry because they were in pain.
“We observed that the phone system in the mornings were extremely busy. Some had tried to ring for an appointment for several days and not succeeded.”
The Midgate centre is open from Monday to Friday every week for urgent treatment by appointment, with emergency out of hours’ treatment available on alternate weekends.
At present there are three hours available for emergency out of hours’ care on Saturday and on Sunday every other weekend.
Weekday appointments are given on a first come, first served basis.
Healthwatch said it was told by staff that emergency appointments every day are normally booked within an hour of opening.
It added that patients should contact NHS England to let them know if they have been unable to find a dentist and want to raise their concerns about this.
Healthwatch is now recommending that:
. NHS England make sure that there are enough high street, urgent and out of hours’ dental services to meet the needs of local residents.
. Local public health teams and Public Health England develop an oral health campaign targeting children and families.
. Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust make sure the information they are providing for people using their dental access centres is accessible.
The quality of care at both Peterborough and Wisbech sites was praised by patients.
The NHS website advises people to contact their usual dentist in case of an emergency or call NHS 111.
It advises people not to contact their GP as they cannot provide urgent dental care and to only go to A&E for serious reasons, e.g. heavy bleeding, severe pain and injury to face and mouth.