Healthwatch York saw a 454 per cent increase in complaints about dental services in 2020. The organisation is calling for urgent reforms.
One person looking for dental treatment was told they would have to wait two years for an appointment, while another was told it would be five years before she could see a dentist in York.
Patients also reported that they had been de-registered from their NHS dental practice after being told the surgery had gone fully private.
Researchers asked the 14 other Healthwatch organisations covering Yorkshire and Humber if they knew any dentists on their patch who were taking on NHS patients. Thirteen said they did not and were experiencing similar problems to York, while one said they knew of a dentist seeing patients for non-routine appointments. The team concluded: “So to the best of our knowledge at this time there are no dentists accepting NHS patients across Yorkshire and Humber for routine care.”
Healthwatch contacted the 39 dental practices in York and found that eight were currently treating existing NHS patients for routine care - with most surgeries having a waiting time of three to six months for an appointment.
By comparison, all but one practice was found to be treating private patients and the majority were waiting less than six months for an appointment.
The organisation has raised concerns that people are feeling pressured to pay for private care, an option the report says is very difficult for families on low incomes or for residents who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Healthwatch York manager Siân Balsom said: “NHS dentistry in the city has reached a new low and is in need of urgent and radical reform.
“If we fail to act soon we’ll be putting further pressure on an already severely stressed health system.”
Practices had been “seriously impacted” by Covid, the report found, with dentists saying colleagues had left as a result of the pandemic, that the backlog of patients was large and that uncertainty was causing disruption.
Healthwatch wants to see action taken to reform commissioning of dental services to focus on tackling inequalities and affordability. They are also calling for clearer information for patients about how, where and when to access NHS dentists and how much they will have to pay. And they want dentistry to be linked to wider health services, with oral health affecting conditions such as weight management and stop smoking programmes.
Roger Newton, research officer at Healthwatch York, explained: “The most frequent reason people in York contact our information, advice and signposting service is to ask where they can find a dentist.
“We have long struggled to signpost them anywhere. Our research above gave us firm evidence as to the problem. We are now launching a survey to capture the voices of would-be NHS dental patients across the city, to show the impact of this gaping hole in local health and care provision.”