Pressure on NHS dentists in Camden 'will make health inequality worse'

A dentist checking the condition of a patients teeth, as NHS dental charges in England will rise fiv

The pandemic has made it even harder for people in Camden to see an NHS dentist - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Only one of Camden's 33 NHS dental practices is accepting new patients, according to a new report from a local health watchdog – and this is "bound to exacerbate health inequalities", it has warned.

Healthwatch Camden has produced a study showing how difficult it has become to access dental care on the NHS, especially if you are not already registered at a practice. 

Healthwatch Camden, which works to represent patients locally, conducted a telephone survey to find out how difficult it was to book appointments at dentists.

Its report states that: 

  • 32 of 33 NHS dental practices in the borough were unable to take on new patients
  • "Around three in five" NHS dentists had a waiting list of at least three months for potential new patients
  • Patients who had contacted the watchdog to tell of "feeling pressure" to pay for more expensive private dental care
Matthew Parris, the new director of Healthwatch Camden. Picture: Healthwatch Camden

Matthew Parris, director of Healthwatch Camden, warned difficulty getting a dentist's appointment would exacerbate health inequality - Credit: Archant

The watchdog said only four of the practices it spoke to were able to offer any appointments for children, even though under-18s are entitled to free NHS dentistry.

When unable to offer appointments, Healthwatch Camden reported 29 of 33 practices referred patients to the 111 service.

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The British Dental Association (BDA) estimates that more than 75,000 fewer appointments have taken place in Camden since the first lockdown, including 22,000 fewer for children.

Matthew Parris, director of Healthwatch Camden, said: “The limited availability and long waiting times for NHS dental care in the borough are a real concern.

"Whilst the problem is not specific to Camden, or London, it is one which risks exacerbating the health inequalities that were growing even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

"There is a disparity in access to dental services, between those who must wait for treatment and those that can afford to pay for private treatment. If we do not act now, this is bound to exacerbate health inequalities in Camden.”

Shawn Charlwood, who chairs the British Dental Association's general dental practice committee, said: "NHS dentistry was in crisis before COVID struck, as an underfunded and overstretched service limped on, leaving millions with few options.

"Since lockdown, that crisis has reached new levels.”

An NHS England spokesperson for the London area said: "“We are now seeing more people come forward for dental treatment following the pandemic, and are running dental hubs giving patients access to urgent and emergency care, including late nights and weekends seven days a week.

"We also have community dental teams supporting vulnerable patients.”