Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) said residents had contacted him to report problems finding an NHS dentist, with some practices only opening for private patients during the pandemic, and some offering emergency care but no NHS check-ups.
The issue was listed on a work programme drawn up for the county council’s Health and Adult Social Care scrutiny committee – but Dr Walsh and others felt it needed to be given high priority.
He said: “NHS dentistry in West Sussex is in a near collapsed situation.
“I get more comments in my mailbag now than I do on potholes in my part of the world – and that’s a first.”
Calling for an ‘urgent review’ of the issue, he added: “Because of the problems, dental health is worsening enormously and other health problems follow from that as well. ”
Dr Walsh was supported by Alison Cooper (Con, Rustington East), who said: “In my area we have a lot of problems and I think it is being highlighted by the amount of queries that we’re getting.”
Healthwatch West Sussex, an independent body which champions the views of health service users, shared a report with a meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board on Thursday (June 24).
The report said that between June and October 2020, more than 140 people contacted the body about dentistry – six time more than in the previous five months.
The main issues included:
Difficulties booking emergency and routine care appointments
Priority being given to private patients
Inaccurate, out of date and confusing information about the availability of treatment.
A spokesman for Healthwatch said: “People told us that when they were unable to access a dentist, they experienced anxiety, worsening problems requiring further treatment, pain and fear and inconvenience.
“Some people even told us about their experiences where lack of access to care pushed them to take steps which put their own health and wellbeing at risk.”
Healthwatch has asked the government and the NHS to review the cost of NHS dental treatments.
The report said: “In the current global climate the reality is a lot of people have lost their jobs and have less money, but we believe everyone should be able to access the dental treatment they need.”
Looking at how to tackle the issues raised, Dr Walsh said he wanted the Health and Adult Social Care scrutiny committee to question NHS England about what was being done to sort things out and whether more dentists could be asked – or told – to offer NHS services.