Cumbria a ‘dental desert’ with very few NHS appointments

SWATHES of Cumbria are becoming dental deserts as NHS dentistry teeters ‘on the brink of collapse’.

The Cumberland News analysed records for nearly 60 dentist practices across Cumbria and found none were clearly open to adult NHS patients – and just one was open to children.

Carlisle, Whitehaven and Workington are among the areas where there appear to be no dental practices currently accepting NHS patients without a referral.

MPs from across the country took part in a Parliamentary debate on access to NHS dentistry in June.

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They shared horror stories about people pulling out their own teeth, lingering on waiting lists for years and being left in agony.

And in Cumbria, anyone in a similar situation is likely to face a struggle to access treatment according to the NHS Find a Dentist service.

A spokesman for the British Dental Association said an “unprecedented collapse in NHS commitment” among dentists could spell the end of the service without radical and urgent Government action.

The BDA believe thousands of dentists across the country have moved away from NHS work entirely since the start of the pandemic.

N&S analysis of statistics for North Cumbria CCG found a drop of almost a third in ‘units of dental activity’ carried out between the second quarter of 2018-19 and the same period in 2021-22.

That incorporates a 46% drop in band one treatments, usually associated with routine care and check-ups.

The recent decline in NHS dentistry has been linked to health service contracts that see dentists paid similarly per unit of work – regardless of how complex that work is.

Shawn Charlwood, from the BDA, said: “This Government has ensured many dentists cannot see a future in this service.

“Without urgent reform and adequate funding there is little hope we can halt this exodus.”

He added: “Access problems remain the norm, oral health inequality is set to widen, while a growing number of dentists are walking away from the NHS.

“This is how NHS dentistry will die – a lingering decline that unchecked will leave millions of patients with no options.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said it was working with the NHS to reform the dental system and is negotiating improvements to its contract with the BDA to increase access for patients and ensure working in the NHS remains attractive to dentists.

He added: “The NHS commits around £3 billion to dentistry each year and last year we delivered an additional £50 million to fund up to 350,000 extra dental appointments.”

Dental practices are working to tackle workforce issues and to increase capacity during a time of high demand, a spokesman for the NHS said.

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