30 Sept 2022

'Difficult and challenging time' for dental patients

Dentists to 'prioritise patients on clinical need not registration' - Department of Health

'Difficult and challenging time' for dental patients

'Difficult and challenging time' for dental patients

In spite of Department of Health advice that dentists must ‘prioritise patients on the basis of clinical need rather than registration status’, people in the city are still finding it extremely difficult to access NHS dental treatment.

Derry Now was contacted earlier this week by a reader who highlighted that the already dire situation was being exacerbated if the person concerned was living with disability.

The reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, said her sister, a young woman who has cerebral palsy and  is confined to a wheelchair, was currently in severe pain as a result of a broken tooth.

She added: “My sister has never registered with a dentist and as a result we have had to contact several health centres in an attempt to get her the necessary dental care to alleviate her pain. So far we have been unsuccessful. We do not know who to turn to or what to do next.”

In response to an inquiry from this paper, the Department of Health said general dental services had been “significantly impacted by the pandemic”.

It added: “The Department acknowledges it has been a difficult and challenging time for many patients who have had to wait much longer than usual for treatment. 

“The Department of Health responded by investing more than ever in dental practices to support them during this period. The financial support scheme that had been in place during 2020/21 and 2021/22 provided significant support to dental practices, with over £78m invested in two years. 

“This scheme was replaced in April of this year with the rebuilding support scheme. This scheme pays dentists an additional 25% for their activity and was designed to maintain practice business viability and to incentivise increased levels of treatment.

“In recent months general dental services activity levels have increased from around 55 to 60% to 76% as a result of new payment approach and the reducing impact of the pandemic. This steady increase in capacity provides practices with greater scope to see patients, particularly those experiencing pain and discomfort.”

The Department said the terms of the rebuilding support scheme required dentists to “prioritise patients on the basis of clinical need rather than registration status”.

It added: “This helps the capacity to be used as effectively as possible.

“Prior to the pandemic access to general dental services was very good. Given the current treatment backlog and the fact that activity levels are lower now than they were in 2019/20, it is inevitable that access levels are not as favourable today as they were before covid. 

“Patients who are currently not registered with a Health Service dentist, and wish to become registered may unfortunately have to contact multiple practices, and consider travelling further than normal. 

“In response to the difficulties facing patients, the Department of Health is developing
a dedicated scheme to improve access to dental care for unregistered patients. It is hoped that the scheme will be piloted at the end of the summer.”

Derry Now also submitted two inquiries to the British Dental Association NI regarding the difficulty of obtaining NHS dental care in the city. At the time of going to press, no response had been received.

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