Summary of report content
Healthwatch East Sussex wanted to find out abut the experiences of people who had tried to access NHS dental services both before and since the start of the pandemic. A survey ran from October to November 2021 and was completed by 296 people.
Respondents identified an overall decline in their satisfaction with dental services since March 2020, when compared to their pre-pandemic experiences. The largest decline in satisfaction related to waiting times, but also in: advice received, treatment received, access to information, charges and costs, and speed of referrals.
Most respondents found timely and appropriate access to dentistry services and treatment in their local area (both NHS and private) had got harder. This applied to both routine and emergency services. This was particularly problematic for anyone who had not regularly accessed dental services before the pandemic.
Only one-in-three of the respondents who had tried to join a dental practice (NHS or private) since March 2020 were successful. Some of these had joined as private patients because they could not find practices accepting NHS patients. Some respondents expressed a perception that they could only access treatment in a realistic timescale if they went private.
The lack of a ‘one-stop shop’ location identifying the practices offering NHS dentistry and accepting patients was a major source of frustration. The NHS ‘Find a dentist’ website shows contracted NHS practices, but not which are accepting patients. It was often found to be out-of-date, as were individual practice websites. This left people to have to ‘ring round’ practices, impacting both their time and that of practice staff.
A number of recommendations were made in the report.