Thousands of patients across the UK will soon find it harder to get a dental appointment, health bosses warn, as funding for the dental service on the NHS has been withdrawn. Work rates for dental appointments on the NHS were expected to be up to 10% higher but this is set to change after the NHS Integrated Care Boards (ICB) in the West Midlands changed their minds, stating that financial pressures in the NHS elsewhere have taken priority. This change is expected to result in an average 5,000 patients NOT being treated for dental issues in a year, the same as two full time dentists not working.
The BBC spoke to Vijay Sudra, a dentist who runs a dental practice in Shard End, Birmingham that he would not be able to see patients on the NHS after February because of the tiny budget provided. Speaking to the issue, said: "I am not sure how I am supposed to work for the last six weeks of the year if there is no funding. The most frustrating thing is that the patients who most need treatment won't get it because they can't afford private dentistry”. Sudra said he had patients who have low funds and have no chance of getting private dentistry and thus may be left with sub-par dental health or living in pain with abscesses and other dental emergencies which have a significant impact on quality of life if left untreated.
When contacted, the West Midlands Integrated Care Boards stated that ‘balancing the budget’ remained a serious issue across the NHS, “As a result of the financial pressures across the NHS this year, all integrated care boards were asked to review their financial plans to ensure we reach as close to a break-even position as possible. This funding is discretionary and is not a mandated contractual requirement as part of the dental contract. He added: "We recognise this will be disappointing to dental colleagues and that we may need to support practices who are particularly affected. We remain committed to improving access to dental care across our communities and are looking forward to working more closely with dentists and our communities to deliver this”.
The issue has been reported to be affecting dozens of integrated care boards across the country. Speaking to this problem, Eddie Crouch, chairman of the British Dental Association said, “We are the Cinderella service and overspends in other areas of the health service mean that they come and rob us of the money we have to treat our patients. For patients in the West Midlands that's awful”. This has led to many local news organisations in the midlands reporting that many dental practices are not accepting new patients and residents face a postcode lottery to find a practice. Research in the Guardian discusses that 82.8% of surgeries are refusing to let adults become new patients, while 71.1% won’t register under-18s.
In the south-west of England, the situation is so dire that only four of the 456 surgeries in the south-west of England are accepting new adults – only 1 in 100 practices across the region. Other areas with the highest proportion are not permitting new patients for NHS funded care include the north-east (96.8%) and the east Midlands (94.3%). It’s unclear what can break the deadlock in care stagnation in dentistry for those looking for NHS-funded care, and with pressures on working families persisting in this economy, it appears unlikely families can seek private, self-funded care easily.