Leaders in health and politics discuss NHS dentistry ‘in freefall’

HEALTH leaders have appeared before a committee of councillors providing an update on the challenges facing NHS dentistry in Cumbria, explaining what is being done to address the county’s appointments backlog.

Concerns have been raised about the struggles of Cumbrian residents to access NHS dentistry at both a county and borough council level in recent months. 

And representatives of the NHS attended the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee on Monday to give their latest updates on pressure facing the service. 

Councillors were told that residents may be struggling to see their NHS dentist due to the “legacy of significant volume of unmet need.”

READ MORE: ‘Disruption was inevitable’ – pandemic’s impact on NHS dental care in Cumbria revealed

Head of primary care Denise Dodgson said: “Covid-19 still continues to have a bit of a demand on NHS dental services.

“This is predominantly around backlog because dentists have to follow a strict infection control policy during Covid, that’s obviously been over the last two and a half years, as a result there is a demand for dental care, it remains high across all dental providers and that’s not just in North Cumbria.”

However, she said: “We have a total of 40 dental practices that we commission across North Cumbria.”

The NHS commissions a total of 473,837 units of dental activity (UTA) from its facilities in the area.

READ MORE: Allerdale Borough Council launches review into GP and dentistry appointments

The ‘legacy of Covid’ is that NHS dentists have to spent about 20 per cent more time on each patient, making up for the treatment that could not be carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tom Robson the lead on urgent care with NWAS said: “If you’re doing 20 per cent more on each patient, that means you can see fewer patients per day.”

County councillor for Egremont and St Bees Chris Whiteside said: “We’re concious that you’re working with a particularly serious recruitment and retention problem and everybody knows its difficult to get an appointment with a GP, everybody knows our mental health services are under stress but frankly, the shortage in many parts of Cumbria, including the area I represent, of dentistry appointments is the worst problem of the lot.

“We’re well aware that the service is in freefall.”

NHS representatives said that the next steps include reviewing plans for the recommissioning of dental activity that has been lost and increasing urgent care capacity in the short-term until access improves longterm.

Meanwhile, health leaders nationally will work to resolve ‘recruitment and retention pressures in NHS dental services.’

READ MORE: Cumbria County Councillors to hear update on temporary closure of Rowanwood Ward


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