West Sussex dentistry 'in crisis' leaving families without vital care

Dentistry is ‘in crisis’ with patients facing the choice of ‘going private or not getting dental care at all’.

Data from the BBC shows that West Sussex has lost 38 dentists in the past five years.

For the West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area, numbers rose from 565 in 2017 to 595 in 2018 but have since been falling, with 593 in 2019, 547 in 2020 and 527 in 2021.

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Last Tuesday, NHS England pledged an extra £50million for dentists to provide additional urgent care for NHS patients.

Dentistry stock image - via Pixabay

The funding will only be available until the end of the financial year, at the end of March.

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The British Dental Association warned the time-limited package should ‘only be the start’ when it comes to rebuilding the service and tackling what it called an ‘unprecedented backlog’.

Conservative Mid Sussex MP Mims Davies said: “Ministers are working with the dental sector to do just this in the short term, as indicated by this injection of funding this financial year, as well as in the longer term.

“This funding will be targeted at those most in need of urgent dental treatment.

“Children will be prioritised, as will people with learning disabilities, autism, or severe mental-health problems.”

The worst-affected include those who are unable to afford private dental care.

Hambrook resident Jamie Stevenson and his two sons aged nine and 13, face having to rely on emergency treatment after 17 local practices stopped their NHS contracts.

He said: “I am not going to be able to afford private dental care.”

The chair of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, Shawn Charlwood, said: “Any additional funding is needed recognition of the huge backlogs facing NHS dentistry.

“After a decade of cuts a cash-starved service risks being offered money that can’t be spent. Hard-pressed practices are working against the clock, and many will struggle to find capacity ahead of April for this investment to make a difference.

“Until today not a penny of the government’s multi-billion-pound catch-up programme had reached dentistry. This is progress, but must be just the start if we are to rebuild a service millions depend on.”

During a meeting of West Sussex County Council’s health and adult social care scrutiny committee on Friday, January 21, Lib Dem councillor James Walsh, who represents Littlehampton East, said access to dentistry, both nationally and in West Sussex, had got ‘steadily worse’.

He added: “More and more patients are being faced with the stark choice of either paying privately to get it done or not getting dental care at all.”

Dr Walsh called for a report on the national shortage of dentists, stressing the need for more people to take up a dentistry career and even for qualified dentists to be employed from oversees.

His recommendation that the council write to the Secretary of State about the shortage, and the need for incentives to keep dentists within the NHS, was taken up by the committee.