Oxfordshire patients told to pay for dental care as more practices go private

PATIENTS in Oxfordshire are being told they need to go private if they want to continue making appointments with their dentists.

In the last few months letters were sent to patients from their NHS dentist practices telling them they can no longer be treated unless they go private.

Pam Sylvester, from Bicester, said: “We are currently registered as NHS patients at a Bicester dentist and have just received letters saying they will no longer be treating us unless we go private. Even the young kids will have to pay.

“I understand them not taking on any new NHS patients but to force us to go private is absurd when we can’t go anywhere else, no one is taking on new NHS patients.”

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In addition to this, many NHS dentists take patients off their lists if they have not attended an appointment in a set amount of time.

New polling by Healthwatch England, the independent health and social care watchdog, found that about two in five (41 per cent) people have experienced difficulty booking an NHS dental appointment.

Other data shows that six in 10 people seeking dental treatment across England feel pressurised to go private as more than 2,000 dentists have ditched NHS work in a year.

Healthwatch raised concern that some practices are shutting down or going “completely” private and significant numbers of patients are having to pay privately to receive treatment. 

Healthwatch Oxfordshire said they received numerous calls and online feedback from people and organisations representing marginalised groups across the county about problems finding and accessing NHS dentist services, even when experiencing a dental emergency.

The watchdog heard that contacting the NHS111 or local NHS dentists rarely helped, although patients were being offered private appointments.

A spokesperson for the watchdog said: “According to guidance and standard operating procedures provided to dental practices by the NHS, NHS dental practices are expected to safely provide existing and new patients with appropriate urgent treatment, which can include advice, pain relief and certain other medication.

“Despite these guidelines and the introduction of recent Government and NHS England targets requiring dentist practices to provide 45 per cent of their normal activity or lose some of the money they are given by the NHS, problems still exist.

“There is concern that some NHS dentists prioritise routine appointments over more complex or lengthy treatments.”

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Hugh O’Keeffe, senior commissioning manager at NHS England and NHS Improvement for the South East, told the watchdog: “This has been a difficult period for the patients and the dental practices and there remains a backlog in the system due to the loss of capacity as a result of the pandemic.

“There is significant variation in the size of the NHS contracts held by practices which will impact on the number of patients who can be seen on the NHS.

“All dental practices operate in a mixed economy of NHS and private provision with variation between them in terms of the balance between NHS and private work.”

This story was written by Anna Colivicchi, she joined the team this year and covers health stories for the Oxfordshire papers. 

Get in touch with her by emailing: Anna.colivicchi@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter @AnnaColivicchi

 



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