A report has been published by Swansea Bay Community Health Council - an independent statutory body that exists to represent the interests of patients and the public - and concerns dentistry issues faced by people living in the Swansea and Neath Port Talbot areas.
The document, entitled ‘Accessing NHS Dental Care: Getting to the Root of the Problem’, is a follow-up to issues raised with the local health board in a previous report published in 2020.
Wales Online reveals, “The new report, based on feedback received from 1,370 people, has found that many patients in the region are continuing to struggle to access NHS dental services, including pregnant women and children. It also claims that some dentists, if they couldn’t offer an appointment, actually directed patients to buy dental repair kits to carry out work on themselves.
“The most startling finding however is reports that people have actually pulled their own teeth out at home. Others, meanwhile, have resorted to trying to find an appointment 15 miles away from where they live. It was also claimed that some practices are encouraging patients to go private even though they are entitled to free dental care on the NHS, and that a lack of information about NHS practices in general is a cause of frustration for many patients.
“Of the people who shared feedback with Swansea Bay Community Health Council, 797 of them (the majority of which were from the Swansea area) completed an online survey. As part of the process they submitted comments regarding their experience of trying to access an NHS dentist in south Wales.
One such patient said, “My son has been trying to get an NHS dentist for several years and has had no dental treatment in all that time. He is only told time and time again to join on a (private) plan. It is disgusting.”
Meanwhile, another patient, who was new to the areas, said, “I moved to Swansea during the pandemic. I have called every dentist in the area to see if they are taking on NHS (patients) but have not had any luck for the past year and a half.”
One patient even admitted they resorted to carrying out their own dentistry from home. They said, “Since covid started, I cannot get any dentist. A dentist was supposed to phone me when they had a vacancy. Two teeth I pulled out myself.”
However, the news outlet also shared, “Patients are not just worried about their own dental woes. Many parents and grandparents have expressed fears that a lack of appointments could have serious repercussions for young children, both now and in the future.”
Indeed, one parent said, “My daughter is five and a half and hasn’t seen a dentist since before she was two, now at a critical time of dental health as she starts to lose her baby teeth.
"I’m very concerned that my children’s teeth haven’t been checked for almost two years now and any treatment they may need has been delayed. Children’s teeth will be in a terrible state if dentists continue not to see NHS patients for routine care.”
The media outlet continued, “According to the body who compiled the report, urgent steps need to be taken to correct the ‘unacceptable levels of dental access’ in the Swansea and Neath Port Talbot areas.”
"Swansea Bay Health Board must reflect on the feedback in this report and our 2020 dental report to improve the reach of NHS dental services across Swansea Bay," said Hugh Pattrick, chair of Swansea Bay Community Health Council.
“There is the perceived belief among local people that some practices across Swansea Bay are closing their doors to NHS patients, depriving many of dental care. The health board needs to urgently address the unacceptable levels of dental access inequalities that have widened as a result of the pandemic, and which existed long before. With dental services being pushed to crisis point, urgent action is needed to address these systemic access issues, to ensure no patient is left without access to an NHS dentist, as public concerns persist,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Karl Bishop, dental director at Swansea Bay Health Board, said, “We recognise the upset and distress which dental pain can cause and acknowledge that some people have not been able to access routine dental services as we would have liked during the covid pandemic. Significant investment has been made by the health board to continually improve access to NHS dental care, especially for those with greatest need and the most vulnerable. This has allowed thousands more people to see a dentist.
"However, government covid guidance drastically limited the numbers of patients dental practices across Wales and the UK could see and the care that could be provided, although in SBUHB all dental practices remained open and worked to support their communities. In addition, access to urgent NHS care has not only been maintained but expanded. As covid restrictions are relaxed and we renew our focus on prevention and increasing access to dentists, we are confident that the public will start to see improvements.
"Key to this will be a contract reform programme, which 88 per cent of dental practices in this area have chosen to join. This takes effect immediately. Signing up means they will make a number of positive changes including being able to offer care to almost 30,000 additional new NHS patients this year. In addition, practices will be able to focus on prevention of dental problems, something which is designed to ease pressure in the future and we are continuing with the excellent progress already made by our child oral health programme called Designed to Smile (D2S).”