People are being forced to ‘self medicate’ and are struggling to access NHS dental treatment, according to a recent survey by Healthwatch Lincolnshire.
Access to NHS dental services is a national concern and, over the past year, the issue in Lincolnshire has been repeatedly raised through Healthwatch Lincolnshire – an ‘independent champion for people who use health and social care services’.
It’s small survey of Lincolnshire people, which gained 236 responses, found that 45% had no access to an NHS dentist.
The lack of availability of NHS practices taking on new patients appears to still be a cause for concern. Although some are willing to accept people privately that is not an affordable option for everyone.
Of those who responded, 63% said they had travelled within 10 miles of their home address to their NHS dentist. Nearly a quarter (24%) travel within 25 miles and 13% a longer distance, and there were also several cases of individuals travelling over 100 miles to access NHS dental services.
Healthwatch Lincolnshire said individuals sought help from a range of different services including the NHS111 helpline, while others were left with no choice but to pay for private treatment. Others unfortunately remained in pain due to not being able to get treatment.
One patient said:
“I had chronic toothache and abscess after tooth broke off. No NHS dentist available. I cannot afford private treatment. Self-medicating with paracetamol and ibuprofen.”
Another patient said: “I have been unable to get to see a dentist at all. Even being referred by 111.”
Healthwatch England said when increased safety precautions were introduced as part of the coronavirus pandemic response it “had a huge impact on access” – read its full national response to dentistry concerns here.
In line with Healthwatch England, the Lincolnshire branch has made the following recommendations for NHS dentistry:
- Use the reform of commissioning to tackle the crisis of access and affordability
- Greater clarity in the information about NHS dentistry
- Explore the possibilities of using dental practices to promote a broader wellbeing
Healthwatch Lincolnshire regularly monitors the access to NHS dentistry in the county, sharing its findings with dental commissioners to “influence positive change”. It has also put together some tips on what to do if you’re having trouble finding an NHS funded dentist.