Practices were instructed to suspend all face-to-face care at the onset of lockdown, and since June 2020 have been working to pandemic restrictions that have drastically reduced patient numbers and are yet to be relaxed.
Courses of dental treatment in Yorkshire and the North East dropped by more than 40 per cent from 6.7m appointments in 2019/20 to 3.9m in 2020/21. The numbers of child patients being seen in the region dropped by 42 per cent in the 12 months between June 2020 and June 2021 – the highest fall in the country.
In Parliament yesterday, Yvette Cooper, Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, told Mr Javid: “NHS dentistry is facing a capacity crisis. There is a huge backlog of urgent care and treatment, which is leaving many dentists overwhelmed. Patients, including those in Pontefract and in towns across the country, are now unable to get routine check-ups, which is making the urgent care crisis worse and creating a vicious spiral.”
She asked him to arrange for ministers to meet dentists and patients in Yorkshire to hear about their experiences and set out an “urgent plan” to deal with the situation.
Mr Javid said recommendations on infection prevention and control – which include measures such as reducing social distancing requirements and returning to standard rather than enhanced cleaning practices – should help the situation when they are implemented.
“Reduced access has been a major cause of the backlog,” he said. “We are also working with our colleagues in the NHS to see what more we can do.”
On September 27, UK Health Security Agency published recommendations for hospitals on Covid protection and control measures such as cutting social distancing from 2m to 1m. The Government said changes to dentistry "will be planned in future steps".
Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, said the availability of NHS dentistry needs to be increased.
“We are in a difficult situation across North Yorkshire where there is no NHS dentist availability across the whole of Thirsk and Malton. It will take the NHS two years to recommission the service in Helmsley [following a practice closure] and the Thirsk practice has just closed its doors with its current list of patients.”
Mr Javid said: “There is a real issue with dentistry across England, including in North Yorkshire, and we know how the pandemic has had an impact on that. Dentists have tried to do the best they can in those circumstances. The changes we are making to infection prevention and control will help. We are looking at further measures.”
Following the Parliamentary exchanges, the British Dental Associaton said problems with accessing dentistry in Yorkshire predate the pandemic – something it puts down to the way NHS dentists are paid for meeting activity targets rather than delivering patient care.
The BDA said the Yorkshire coast and West Yorkshire have been among England’s worst access hotspots for years – with regular reports of DIY dentistry in which people remove their own teeth. Since 2015, the charity Dentaid – which normally operates in the Third World – has been running mobile emergency dental clinics for unregistered patients in Dewsbury.
With dentists now needing to be operating at least at 65 per cent of pre-pandemic activity to avoid financial penalties despite continuing restrictions, the BDA warned more dentists may soon leave the profession.
BDA chairman Eddie Crouch said: “Dentistry in Yorkshire was in crisis long before the pandemic struck. Even when it was ‘business as usual’ we saw patients taking matters into their own hands, and charities stepping in to pick up the pieces where the NHS had failed.
"For a decade these problems have been wilfully ignored. It’s tragic that every corner of England needed to experience the same challenges before the Government finally took note.
“Ministers need to show some ambition, make a break from failed systems and underfunding, and actually build back better.”
Struggles to find an NHS dentist in Yorkshire
Researchers warned earlier this year that no dental practice in Yorkshire and Humber was accepting NHS patients for routine care.
Healthwatch York contacted the other 14 Healthwatch organisations covering the region after finding no practice accepting NHS patients and average waiting times at surgeries of three to six months. Only one of the 14 reported they knew of a dentist taking on non-routine appointments with the 13 others saying there was no availability at all.
In August, the organisation said: “To the best of our knowledge at this time there are no dentists accepting NHS patients across Yorkshire and Humber for routine care.”
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