By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Calls have been made for urgent investment from the government to tackle a growing dental crisis.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) shadow cabinet member for public health, Cllr Karen Constantine (Lab), says the NHS dentistry system is “broken” and “overloaded”.
Her comments come amid concerns of lengthy delays faced by patients for routine and major surgery appointments, with some Kent residents waiting up to two years to be seen.
Cllr Constantine, of Ramsgate, said: “I meet residents regularly who simply cannot believe how difficult it has become to make an appointment, or, to join a dental practice, especially when those suffering are children.”
She says more money is urgently needed to train new dentists amid a staff shortage, adding: “The appointments simply are not available.”
NHS dental practices have been operating at a reduced capacity since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
All practices were asked by NHS England to return to full delivery from this July.
The Department of Health and Social Care says billions of pounds is being invested to “bust” the dental waiting list, growing from the pandemic.
A government spokesman said: “We are improving access to dental care for all NHS patients, backed by more than £3 billion in funding each year and an extra £50 million last year to help bust the Covid backlogs.”
However, the British Dental Association (BDA) says the dental surgery is “woefully underfunded” and believe urgent reform is needed.
‘A backlog that will take years to clear’
A BDA spokesman said: “Over a year’s worth of NHS dental appointments have been lost since lockdown, creating a backlog that will take years to clear, with patients now presenting with higher levels of need, having stored up problems as a result of ongoing access problems.”
The NHS in Kent revealed in January there are 196 dental surgeries and about 346 dentists, covering a population of 1.8million Kent residents.
Surgery closures have become a feature in the county in recent years, such as Ramsgate’s Church Hill Dental Practice in March 2018 and three other practices in Kent in April 2020.
Cllr Constantine says the Secretary of State for Health and Care should bring forward a plan to fix the crisis to ensure everyone needing to visit a dentist is able to for free, and, within a reasonable timeframe.
She said: “This isn’t happening by accident. Twelve years of Conservative mismanagement and underfunding of our NHS, including dentistry, has resulted in a system that is so overloaded, that’s it’s broken.”
She added: “People are suffering because they cannot see a dentist.”
Solutions have included setting up new dental surgeries in the county by the NHS in Kent in the coming years, such as in Sandwich and Thanet.
Meanwhile, NHS dentists have been more efficient as they delivered 26.4 million courses of treatment between April 2021 and March 2022, more than double the number in the previous 12 months .
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman added: “We are making better use of the range of professionals working in the sector such as dental therapists, hygienists and nurses, while also rewarding dentists more fairly for providing more complex care.”