MORE must be done to improve access to NHS dentists, a Gwent Senedd member has warned, following news more than 70 per cent of adults haven’t been for a check-up since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Welsh Government figures show more than 60 per cent of the nation’s children have also gone two years without an NHS dental appointment.
In Monmouthshire, the situation is reportedly worse, with local MS Peter Fox saying it was now “near impossible” for “anxious” residents to join an NHS dental surgery in the county.
The pandemic caused widespread disruption to dentistry, and most routine work was halted during periods of the strictest infection control measures, but new figures show current treatment levels have failed to recover.
In 2021-22, slightly fewer than 1.1 million courses of treatment were recorded in Wales. This is an increase of more than 92 per cent from the previous year, during the height of the pandemic, but is 55 per cent lower than in 2019-20 – the year prior to the pandemic.
The Welsh Government has made commitments to clearing the backlog and making treatment more accessible.
Last week, first minister Mark Drakeford said contractual changes agreed recently meant “tens of thousands of new appointments will become available in the NHS dental service in this calendar year”.
But Mr Fox said that begged the question of “where and when these appointments [would] be available”.
He said: “’I’ve received regular correspondence from anxious constituents, who’re struggling to access NHS dentistry services and, worse still, the British Dental Association has now revealed that just 17 per cent of practices in Monmouthshire are currently taking on new patients.
Mr Fox called on the government to “take full responsibility for this growing crisis because, under Labour’s watch, accessing an NHS dentist as a new patient is now currently near impossible”, and also urged ministers to improve recruitment into the sector.
“Wales desperately needs concrete steps to help retention and encourage people to enter the dentistry industry to stop this crisis,” he added. “The measures also need to ensure NHS patients aren’t disadvantaged by a desire of some dentists to only take on private patients.”
In response to Mr Fox’s concerns, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “From this year, we are providing an additional £2 million each year to improve access to dental services across Wales.
“Changes to the NHS dentistry contract, offered to dental practices since April, also includes a requirement to see new patients. This means an estimated 112,000 new patient appointments will be possible in Wales from this year, with over 21,000 in the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board area.”