Former deputy leader investigates NHS dental access issues in Carlisle

A STARK report from a former city council deputy leader has examined the lack of access to NHS dentistry in Carlisle, calling appointments “as rare as hen’s teeth.”

In a report she submitted to Cumbria’s Health Scrutiny Committee, former Carlisle City Council deputy leader Elsie Martlew has explored the issues around accessing NHS dentistry in Carlisle.

Issues identified in Mrs Martlew’s report include struggles to recruit and retain staff, the impact of Brexit and a need for reform.

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Mrs Martlew said: “Some attribute the problem to the Covid pandemic and although this has had a seismic impact, the problem regarding NHS dentistry has been coming for some while.

“The number of practicing dentists in the UK has been declining for a number of years.”

While recruitment and retention of NHS dentists is a national issue, Mrs Martlew said: “Recruitment across Cumbria is especially difficult, she said that since March 2020 a further 3,000 dentists have moved from the NHS.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people across the country that are simply unable to access dental care. This is mainly due to huge waiting lists for NHS patients and with most dentists ceasing to take on new ones.”

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Mrs Martlew said that this is driving demand to private dentists: “The lack of access to NHS dentistry leads those who can afford it to private dental care thus deepening the health inequalities that the pandemic has starkly highlighted.

She said that added bureaucracy as a result of Brexit has driven up material costs “as have Covid and the War in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile “little progress has been made” in reforms which began in 2009 and she called on the Government to make changes “as a matter of urgency.”

Mrs Martlew said: “New arrangements should include making access to NHS dental services equal and affordable for everyone, regardless of where you live, you income or ethnicity.

“The lack of access to NHS dentistry leads those who can afford it to private dental care thus deepening the health inequalities that the pandemic has starkly highlighted. We won’t restore a fairer NHS until access to dentistry is equal and inclusive for all.”

However, speaking at a meeting of Cumbria’s Health Scrutiny Committee in July, service leaders said that efforts will be made to recommission lost dental activity and urgently increase capacity in the short term until access improves.

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