Experiences of dentistry in East Sussex since March 2020

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Summary of report content

Between October and November 2021, Healthwatch ran a survey to gather experiences of people in East Sussex who had or had tried to access dental services, both before and since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We wanted to hear about the good, the bad and the indifferent.  296 people responded.

People reported an overall decline in their satisfaction with dental services since March 2020, compared to their pre-pandemic experiences.

Most respondents found timely and appropriate access to dentistry services and treatment in their local area 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 had been removed from dental practice lists, but over half of these were not informed that this had happened. Reasons given by practices included a lack of regular attendance, missed appointments and departure of staff. These individuals then faced challenges in finding another practice accepting patients.

The NHS ‘Find a dentist’ website was often found to be out-of-date, as were individual practice websites.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.

One in five rated the standard of care they had received from dentists and practice staff as poor. Some examples were provided of practices (both NHS and private) which had managed to continue to provide very prompt and responsive care, which suggests that there is some variation in the dentistry services available.

Only a third of respondents had discussed and agreed a dental treatment plan. Some respondents were unclear on their eligibility for ‘free’ NHS dental treatment, which suggests they may benefit from this being explained as part of the treatment plan. Some may be paying for services unnecessarily.

Some people noted additional charges or changes to prices occurring during the pandemic, sometimes with limited discussion. The significant gap between NHS and private fees for certain treatments was identified as a concern.

There were indications that dental practices were short of dentists and other staff, and there were often delays in finding replacements. This impacted on the appointment capacity available, and consequently on waiting times.

People felt anxious about the challenges in obtaining routine check-ups and hygienist appointments, citing concerns about the longer-term impacts on their oral and wider health.

The restricted capacity and high thresholds for accessing urgent and emergency treatment, both from practices and Emergency Dental Services (EDS), left some people experiencing significant discomfort and pain. As a result, people had to seek support from other health services including NHS 111, GPs and Accident and Emergency Departments.

Information provided to patients on COVID-19 precautions in place at practices and on the steps that attendees needed to take were mostly regarded as very clear.

Many people felt that the information provided by dental staff about available dental services during the pandemic was poor, including on practice websites and via other forms of communication.

The report contains 16 recommendations.

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General details

Report title 
Experiences of dentistry in East Sussex since March 2020
Local Healthwatch 
Healthwatch East Sussex
Date of publication 
Friday, 11 March, 2022
Date evidence capture began 
Friday, 1 October, 2021
Date evidence capture finished 
Tuesday, 30 November, 2021
Key themes 
Booking appointments
Cleanliness hygiene and infection control
Communication between staff and patients
Cost of services
Health protection
Information providing
Quality of care
Service delivery organisation and staffing
Staff levels
Waiting times and lists for treatment

Methodology and approach

Was the work undertaken at the request of another organisation? 
Primary research method used 
If an Enter and View methodology was applied, was the visit announced or unannounced? 

Details of health and care services included in the report

Primary care services 
Dentist (non-hospital)

Details of people who shared their views

Number of people who shared their views 
Age group 
1-15 years
16-17 years
18-24 years
25-64 years
65-85 years
85 +
Non binary
Asian / Asian British
Black/ African / Caribbean / Black British
Mixed / multiple ethnic groups
Other ethnic group
Sexual orientation 
Does the information include public's views? 
Does the information include carer's, friend's or relative's views? 
Does the information include staff's views? 
What was the main sentiment of the people who shared their views? 

Outcomes and impact

Were recommendations made by local Healthwatch in the report? 
Does the information contain a response from a provider? 
Is there evidence of impact in the report? 
Is there evidence of impact external to the report? 
Not known

Network Impact
Relationships that exist locally, regionally, nationally have benefited from the work undertaken in the report
Implied Impact
Where it is implied that change may occur in the future as a result of Healthwatch work. This can be implied in a provider  response, press release or other source. Implied impact can become tangible impact once change has occurred.
Tangible Impact
There is evidence of change that can be directly attributed to Healthwatch work undertaken in the report.