Over 780,000 dental appointments have been missed in Lincolnshire since the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, including over 200,000 for children.
Some may have been lost due to cancellations or people not showing up, but most are a reflection of the lower capacity in service during the pandemic and the restrictions in place at the time.
The British Dental Association (BDA) estimates (based on FOI data of NHS dental treatment delivered since March 2020) that a total of 787,646 appointments were lost in Lincolnshire, including 221,451 for children.
Although there is no breakdown available for the amount of missed appointments (patient not turning up) or short-notice cancellations, this remains a concern at a time when many people are struggling to find an NHS dentist to register with in Lincolnshire.
Broadway Dental Surgery in Woodhall Spa said earlier this month that “the number of NHS dental patients who are failing to attend for their appointments means that this is seriously jeopardising our ability to service our NHS contract”.
The Woodhall Spa dentist detailed that common excuses included “oh I forgot”, “oh I’ve got to work”, “oh I’ve booked myself a last minute holiday,” and “I didn’t get a reminder, oh but I changed my mobile number and forgot to tell you”.
Andy Fenn, Joint Vice-Chair of the Lincolnshire Local Dental Committee, told The Lincolnite: “Whilst fail to attend (FTA) and short-notice cancellations (within 24 hours) remain a real concern to dental practices, I suspect they are not the only reason for the announcement.
“As I commented previously about the crisis in dentistry and the myriad of reasons that have brought us to this point, with a growing number of NHS dental contracts being handed back, these taken together, will be more likely, to explain the decision taken by the practice owner.
“Many practices are now finding that the cost of providing NHS dentistry is actually more than the government is prepared to pay and is therefore unsustainable without some radical changes.
“As yet, evidence of these changes at the required scale is not forthcoming and whilst this situation persists, more contracts will be handed back and with them further loss of NHS dental access for patients, especially in the hardest hit rural and coastal areas.”
Broadway Dental Surgery added that it will be “reviewing our commitment to the NHS significantly over the next 9-12 months”.
As a result, its existing NHS adult patients (not including those who are exempt from dental charges) are being given three options – to register elsewhere, or register as a Denplan or private patient.
However, this could prove tricky with very few practices appearing to be taking on new NHS patients. In Lincoln, for example, of the 10 main dentists we called last month, none had adult NHS spaces.
People are also being forced to ‘self medicate’ and are struggling to access NHS dental treatment, according to a recent survey by Healthwatch Lincolnshire earlier this year.
Broadway Dental Surgery also said that it is looking to get an idea of how many parents are struggling to find dentists for their children and is planning to contact their local MP Victoria Atkins “to put our case forward”.
It said: “Shouldn’t one of the planning conditions look at capacity with GPs, dentists, pharmacies, opticians, schools before the planners rubber stamp hundreds of new homes.
“All the above providers should be consulted. GPs and dental practices are at breaking point. Recruitment is next to impossible.
“Why are the good folk of Lincolnshire forgotten? It’s time for a legal challenge.”
The Vice Chair of the Lincolnshire Local Dental Committee previously said the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has “only worsened the situation” of dental access in rural counties including Lincolnshire, as the profession reaches “breaking point”.
It is a difficult time for dentistry nationally and, just last week, the BDA said it anticipates the government to make “only modest, marginal changes to the current discredited target-based NHS dental contract” before the summer.