An independent healthcare watchdog has criticised the state of dental services in Bolton after the news that one in four NHS dentists in Bolton leave their positions.
Healthwatch is an independent watchdog for people who use health and social care services.
It aims to address people’s worries and concerns with health provision in the UK by pressuring services to make needed changes.
Healthwatch Bolton are a part of these efforts to make people’s voices heard when it comes to healthcare in the UK.
A spokesperson from Healthwatch Bolton said: “Healthwatch Bolton is the independent champion for people who use health and social care services in Bolton.
“We are contacted by people who are looking to access local health and care services, or they want to share their experience of using them.”
Healthwatch highlight how extremely difficult it is to access NHS dentists.
The spokesperson said: “Historically, access to NHS dentistry in Bolton was difficult, but with tenacity – ringing round – we often found an NHS dentist that was accepting new patients.
“Now, unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible for people to get access to NHS dental care.”
Healthwatch Bolton also stressed how the search function to find dentists is inadequate.
The spokesperson said: “People tell us that they have tried to find an NHS dentist by looking on the NHS website ‘find a dentist’ search function.
“This frustrates people even more because it is not updated and no NHS dentists are accepting new patients.
“We do not signpost people to this search function because it is not fit for purpose.”
They also highlighted how residents who contact Healthwatch Bolton are not able to afford private dental care.
They said: “Private dentistry fees are out of reach for everyone who have contacted Healthwatch Bolton, even more so now with spiralling costs of living.
“People are living with the pain. When the pain is unbearable, some have even taken out loans or borrowed money from family or friends to pay for private dentistry.”
They added: “We’ve even had someone ask us how they can get a refund for their National Insurance contribution. The lack of access to NHS dentistry is hitting people hard.”
Healthwatch Bolton also said how funding given to NHS dental provision has not made an impact in the borough.
They said: “A one off additional £50m allocation has been made by the Department of Health to enable more NHS dental appointments to be funded across the country.
“To date, we have seen no improvement in the level of concerns reported to Healthwatch Bolton.”
They do recognise, however, that this lack of NHS dentistry is a national issue and not just limited to Bolton.
Mohsan Ahmad, dentist and chair of Greater Manchester Local Dental Network, said: “As in other parts of the country, dentistry in Greater Manchester has come under significant pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated existing challenges.
“We understand this is difficult for those struggling to access dental care.
“Anyone who needs help urgently and does not have a regular dentist can call the Greater Manchester dental helpline on 0333 332 3800.”
He added: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership has invested in expanding urgent dental services and support for more vulnerable groups such as looked after children and asylum seekers.”
In reference to the issues with the “Find a dentist” function, Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership say that it is the responsibility of practices providing NHS treatment to maintain accurate information on the website as to whether they are taking on new patients.
They say they regularly communicate to practices the importance of reviewing and updating this information in order to help patients find a dentist.
READ: A quarter of Bolton dentists quit the NHS
This comes after the news that a quarter of Bolton dentists quit the NHS, with figures showing that 25 per cent of Bolton’s practitioners left over a 12-month period up to March 31, 2021.
It was the second-highest drop in England.
If you require urgent dental treatment contact Greater Manchester Urgent Dental Care on 0333 332 3800 from 8am-10pm every day, including weekends and bank holidays. Each visit to the Urgent Dental Care service costs £23.80.
If you’re not in pain but require information, visit the Oral Health Foundation website, which has information about maintaining good oral health.