Lockdown backlog impacting Hackney dentists, health watchdog says

A dentist at work

Lockdowns saw Hackney dental surgeries shut for 12 weeks and their capacity is still reduced - Credit: PA

More than half of Hackney’s dentists are not ready to take on non-urgent NHS patients because of the backlog caused by the pandemic, according to a health watchdog.

Surgeries shut during lockdown for 12 weeks and their capacity is still reduced because of the extra cleaning and health measures needed between appointments.

According to research by Healthwatch Hackney, seven surgeries have been able to add new NHS patients needing non-urgent care to their books – half the number that were accepting new private patients.

Three surgeries in Hackney said they were not taking any NHS patients at all when they were contacted by the watchdog in November and December.

One Hackney resident who has severe anxiety said they had called 15 dentists in a quest for help but none of them were taking NHS patients.

They explained: “I have extensive dental problems and daily dental pain and really would like to see a dentist to start tackling my issues. I also have severe anxiety, so have been struggling to call them in the first instance at all.”

Healthwatch also reported long waiting times, with some patients saying they “are being asked to wait anywhere between a few months and three years to get an NHS appointment – while some cannot even get on a waiting list”.

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Two practices said NHS patients could face a wait of around a year for non-urgent work such as a check-up. Another estimated the wait to join the surgery as between a year or two.

Some people discovered they have been taken off NHS lists at their surgery because they have not used the service recently.

Seventy dental surgeries across London have applied for a chunk of a £7.8m cash injection from the government to help tackle the backlog in appointments.

Barts is also offering dental appointments for children needing specialist care and the Whittington in Archway has also said it will do extra children’s dentistry sessions, whilst UCLH is looking at offering more services.

Dentists are still performing around-the-clock emergency care at 35 hubs across London.

Patients say they have been struggling to see dentists at their local surgeries.

One mother told Healthwatch: “My daughter has been taken off our dentist’s list because she didn’t use their services over the last six months and they can’t take her take her back as their list is full.”

Patients spoke about their experiences being offered private care instead, but said they would struggle to afford it.

One six-year-old child needed five fillings and four sealants.

His parent told the watchdog: “I simply cannot afford a private dentist. And he needs the treatments as soon as possible as we have been delaying it for three months now because of coronavirus.”

Researchers contacted the 27 dental surgeries in the borough last November and December to find out about waiting times for urgent and non-urgent dental care. It was unable to speak to five of the surgeries.

Most surgeries were able to offer NHS patients on their lists urgent appointments the next day after a triage telephone call.

They said they were prioritising urgent care for both their NHS and private patients.

Healthwatch said calls about dentistry increased during the pandemic.

The organisation has called for “better parity” so patients “are never able to access dental care and treatment more quickly by paying for private treatment from a practice that is contracted to provide NHS care”.

It also wants services commissioned locally, rather than by NHS England, and for dentists in the borough to provide information about their services and preventative dental care.

Covid cases have been falling in the borough since they peaked at 2,530 per 100,000 in the week ending December 22. 

The latest data, for the week ending February 2, has cases at 652 per 100,000 people. 

Covid deaths were 0.6 over a seven day period on January 30 all cause mortality remains below the five year average.