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Closing gaps in dental provision in Bradford and Kirklees
Since 2014, ‘How do I get an NHS dentist?’ has been one of the most common questions people in Bradford and Kirklees have asked their local Healthwatch. Together they have been working to try and help improve access to local dental services.
Official figures, along with our own national polling, show that most people are able to make an NHS dental appointment when they try to and that they are satisfied with the services they recieve. However, in some areas of the country, people have been telling local Healthwatch that accessing dental care can be very difficult indeed. Here, we explore the problems, and how local Healthwatch have been working to try and resolve them.
Problems accessing NHS dentists
74% of people Healthwatch Bradford spoke to who did not have an NHS dentist said they had tried to find one but had been unable.
Healthwatch Kirklees found that people in their area were facing the same problem. One person has been looking for a dentist for over three months. They told Healthwatch Kirklees: "I am now in extreme pain. I have contacted all local dentists but they are saying that they will only take on private patients. I don't want to be going to A&E but the problem is getting worse. If I had been seen three months ago then I might not be in the pain that I am in today".
In September, a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise conducted by the two local Healthwatch across the whole of West Yorkshire identified only two practices in the region accepting new NHS patients.
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Action to help
Thanks to local Healthwatch, this issue has received a lot of attention. Local media published stories about the problems people were facing getting appointments with NHS dentists, and local MPs asked questions about it in the House of Commons. The findings were also shared with the Bradford and Kirklees Health and Wellbeing boards, and with an NHS England group set up to improve access to dentists.
Better information for patients
Public Health England is now working with Healthwatch Bradford and Healthwatch Kirklees to produce guidance for patients with healthy teeth to reduce the number of unnecessary check-ups and make room for other patients. Healthwatch Kirklees has developed an animation for patients which explains why going to the dentist too frequently might not be in their best interests.
NHS Choices has committed to rewording its information on dental listings after Healthwatch Kirklees made a series of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about inaccurate dental listings.
Piloting new approaches
Although NHS England had developed a proposal for a pilot scheme to open up new appointments in the worst affected areas of the district, Healthwatch Bradford and Healthwatch Kirklees are concerned at a lack of progress, and they have started to look at new ways to help improve the situation.
Healthwatch Bradford and Healthwatch Kirklees are looking into how frequently patients in West Yorkshire return to the dentist to see whether healthy adults are going too much. By analysing the rate at which patients re-attend for routine dental check-ups they want to find out how many new appointments could be freed up for new patients if attendance intervals for dentally fit adults were increased.
They are working with the local Sustainability and Transformation Plan leader to work out ways to ensure that people are only visiting the dentist when they need to. This would mean that patients who need urgent dental care would find it easier to access, and healthy patients would not be attending more than necessary, without requiring extra funding.
Are you having problems accessing an NHS Dentist?
Get in touch with your local Healthwatch and share your experience.
How is local Healthwatch working to make your voice count?
Read more examples of how local Healthwatch are working to make sure that people’s views are put at the heart of health and care services in our new publication.