Devastating impact of Covid lockdowns on dental services in Northumberland laid bare

The coronavirus lockdown has heaped pressure on struggling dental services in Northumberland – and made patients’ needs far more urgent.

That was the assessment presented to councillors on Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing board on Tuesday.

Members of the committee were receiving an update on the level of NHS dentist provision in the county, as well as hearing assurances on the arrangements for dental access in Berwick.

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Tom Robson, the local dental network chairman, said the pandemic had a significant impact on services and explained why it was proving difficult to deal with the backlog.

Speaking at the meeting, he said: “Covid had a significant impact on demand. There was very little practice between April and July 2020, and we only returned to full strength in July 2022.

“Because patients haven’t been in for such a long time, it generally takes longer than it would have pre-Covid. Patients with moderate need now have high need and patients with high need now have exceptionally high need.

“It is taking 125% of the time per patient than it did pre-Covid.”

Worse still, the dental sector is suffering nationally from a recruitment and retainment crisis, particularly for NHS dentists. In Berwick, were the situation was already difficult, one of the town’s three practices has closed since the pandemic, putting huge pressure on the system.

Mr Robson explained that even with 100 per cent of the pre-Covid workforce, the same amount of patients would not be seen due to the increased amount of time taken to see each patient.

In terms of the North East, a number of measures were in place in order to deal with the challenges presented by Covid and the recruitment issues. These included further incentives for dental practice for people who had not been seen by a dentist for a long time or who require urgent care.

There has been additional funding made available and work is ongoing to “maximise the clinical treatment capacity” of practices.

In terms of Berwick in particular, “market engagement” is underway to inform a long-term, sustainable partner, while NHS services in Northumberland are also working with those in the Scottish Borders in a bid to secure an interim solution.

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