Man ‘pulled out own teeth’ after failing to get NHS dental appointment during pandemic

Dentistry industry is in a 'mess', says watchdog

Matt Mathers
Monday 08 February 2021 10:56
Coronavirus in numbers

A man pulled out his own teeth because he was unable to get NHS dental treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic, a health watchdog has said.

Sir Robert Francis QC, chairman of Healthwatch England, said some NHS patients are facing waits of up to two years due to the disruption caused by lockdown measures.

Other NHS patients are being asked to pay for private appointments "if they want treatment", the watchdog added, with one person quoted £1,700 for a procedure that would usually cost £60.

Increased waiting times coupled with the threat of having to pay extra for care are leading some people to take matters into their own hands, Sir Robert said.

"I'm afraid dentistry is in a mess," he told the BBC's Today programme. "Recently, we've had a considerable increase in the number of people telling us they've had great difficulty in accessing treatment.

"In particular, accessing treatment that by all normal standards would be considered emergencies".

Sir Robert added: "And in one particular case a patient was suffering so much that, in the end, he decided to extract his own teeth".

Healthwatch England, which monitors the views of service users across the country, said it had been contacted by hundreds of people between October and December last year complaining about dentistry issues in the health service.

The most common reason for people to approach the body was to complain about a lack of appointments.

One patient was told to use a nail file to deal with a broken tooth, and others were advised to "buy dental repair kits and treat themselves", according to the watchdog.

Sir Robert said that the issues show how the coronavirus pandemic has "exacerbated the human impact of years of structural issues in NHS dentistry and is now pushing it to crisis point."

Patients have suggested that dentists are prioritising private care and asking them to pay private fees if they want treatment, Healthwatch said.

A report by Healthwatch featured one account from a patient living in Kent who said their dentist told them NHS care for a root canal procedure would "60 per cent successful", but if they were willing to pay for private care, the odds of success would increase to 90 per cent.

"Throughout the appointment, the dentist kept making reference to private treatment," the patient told Healthwatch. "This made me think that the NHS care that I would receive would be sub-standard."

The watchdog also raised concerns for pregnant women – highlighting how one patient with a suspected abscess waited months for care and was eventually told that the only place she could receive care was a 45-minute drive away.

The dentistry sector has been badly affected by the pandemic. Infection control, social distancing and personal protective equipment mean that dentists are not able to see as many patients as they used to, and the sector also faces huge backlogs after being forced to shut for a number of weeks last year.

Dentists have been ordered to reach 45 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels, in terms of appointments.

Healthwatch has written to health secretary Matt Hancock, calling on him to intervene.

"We are concerned that the current situation may lead to practices across the country closing their doors to NHS patients, depriving our constituents of dental care at a time when the effect of reduced access to dental care is still being felt," the letter reads.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are committed to supporting the dental sector throughout this unprecedented pandemic so everyone can access affordable, high-quality dental care.

"Since last summer, all practices have been able to open to deliver the full range of face-to-face care with 600 extra urgent dental centres providing extra support.

"We continue to work closely with the NHS to increase access as fast as possible while protecting staff and patients from Covid-19 infection."

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