Written evidence submitted by Robert Barker (DTY0005)
I understand that you are investigating NHS dentistry in England and Wales as a result of 90% of practices not accepting new NHS patients. My submission is based on personal experience.
Firstly this is a long standing problem of some years and it is difficult for a member of the public to understand why it has taken your committee so long to recognise there is a serious problem. This implies that the information you receive is severely masking the truth of what is happening on the ground and this should be a cause for concern in itself and action should be taken to improve this.
The differences between the Scottish, English/Welsh, and Northern Ireland systems are stark and this implies there is no regular review of best practice between the health authorities/relevant government departments which could catch these issues and deal with them at a much earlier stage and cheaper.
From an availability point of view one of the issues is that even if you find a dentist, if that dentist decides to go private then they can just dump the NHS patients, where as in Scotland( as I understand it) they have to keep seeing the NHS patients until there is an actually practice alternative in place( not just a theoretical possibility). I also understand the payment systems are sufficiently different that the English dentists can be significantly worse off depending on the treatments required.
I think the attitude to dentistry by the government/NHS England was put into stark focus during the covid restrictions. They were treated as at the end of the queue in terms of getting access to medical equipment. Not just masks etc but I know of dentists who spent evenings buying Perspex etc and fashioning it into protective screens and other items in their garage to try to provide a service, who could not get any extra money for the significant increase in costs providing the safety equipment (unlike just about all other groups in the health service) , spent hours trying to engage with the authorities about payment systems clearly broken as soon as the restrictions on how long a gap to leave between patients came in, etc. They need to be treated more like an important public medical service and it not assumed it that it can be left to the private patient sector.
Dentistry is a front line service in terms of the health and well being of patients, They are, for example, the only ones to carry out regular checks of the mouth for signs of cancer and other diseases. It needs to be better recognised that they are part of integrated care services.
I hope you find this brief submission useful in terms of the views of a patient who was dumped out of the system when their dentist went private and it took over 2 years to find a new one in a relatively attractive part of the country.