Written evidence submitted by Healthwatch Surrey (DTY0077)
Healthwatch Surrey is an independent health and care organisation, empowering the residents of Surrey to have their voices heard. We seek out people’s experiences of health and care services and share these with service providers and decision-makers, to support services to improve and tackle health inequalities. We believe that health and social care providers can best improve services by listening to people’s experiences.
We also provide advice and signposting to help the people of Surrey find the care that best suits their needs.
Since 2020, the people of Surrey have been increasingly sharing their experiences of challenges in accessing dental care over the past year. In July 2022, 1 in 5 people who shared their experiences of health cand care services mentioned dentistry. The majority of people were looking for information and advice as they were not able to find a practice to take them on as an NHS patient. We also heard from people who had other treatments delayed as they were unable to access a dentist:
“I have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and about to undergo a course of chemotherapy. However, I have some dental issues which need to be addressed before the chemotherapy course commences and I need help finding an NHS dentist”
We raised these concerns in a report shared with Surrey’s MPs in December 2021 noting how a sharp rise in people needing to access urgent dental care demonstrated a need for reform.
In the course of our role in providing information and advice we increasingly became concerned about the lack of clarity for people to identify who was able to provide NHS treatment as well as what their eligibility was.
People at risk of health inequalities and those from low-income households are particularly at risk:
“I have managed today to get an emergency appointment at a dentists via the NHS 111 service as I have been suffering with bad tooth pain. The dentist has advised that I will need the tooth removed as its decayed and infected. She has prescribed me some antibiotics and said I should find a local dentist. I have tried pretty much every dentist I can find on Google locally and none are accepting new NHS clients. I have a disability and now unable to work so just rely on disability benefits for our income so I just can’t afford to pay for a private dentists.”
We have also heard about the impact this can have on people’s mental health:
“I am contacting you as I have not been able to find or even sign up to an NHS waiting list in the last year. I do understand that it is difficult times, but it is really starting to affect me badly. I have a crown front tooth from a childhood accident and trauma in my mouth as a result from the accident. I feel constant stress about not having to be able to get any check-ups and the stress is starting to affect me mentally as well. I am writing and hoping that you will be able to help me.”
Patients requiring urgent treatment have found themselves calling on urgent and emergency care services, placing further pressure on a challenged part of the system:
“Right, I just spent 5 hours in A&E, and I don’t know what to do now. I’ve seen a consultant and he suggested codeine - which I’m already taking - and to find a dentist. I must have sent a hundred or more emails to dentists in the area over the last year, with no luck at all. Seriously, 5 hours in A&E for that. I’m going to go to the shed and get my tools out, and rip the bloody tooth out myself, then dial 999.”
Whilst we have seen improvements to the information available to the public on who provides NHS services, we remain concerned about the level of availability and the impact that this is having on the residents of Surrey.