Patients turned away as dentists are ‘overrun’

Tribune investigation finds just five surgeries in borough are taking on new NHS patients

Thursday, 14th April — By Charlotte Chambers

Dentist

PEOPLE in desperate need of a dentist are still being turned away in their hundreds across the borough.

An investigation by the Tribune revealed just five dentists in the borough are taking on new NHS patients out of a total of 18 surgeries, with one practice revealing they had closed their waiting list after it reached more than 500 people.

Nearly all those we talked to said their surgeries were “at capacity” with many advising trying again later in the year or for patients to dial 111, the centralised healthcare system.

The long waits come after dentists were closed during the pandemic and many are still struggling to see all the patients on their books and get through a backlog of work.

There was a warning from a local health watchdog, however, that the chaos has deeper roots as it urged NHS England to commission more dentistry services from dentists. Luke Buffery, of Healthwatch Islington, said: “From our conversations with dental professionals, not enough NHS dentistry has been commissioned – there aren’t enough appointments that have been paid for [to meet] the NHS demand.

“When you commission something you pay an amount based on predicted levels of need – that contract was negotiated a long time ago and it appears not enough dentistry was commissioned.

“It was already a problem before the pandemic but that made it a lot worse.”

One dental surgery, London City Smiles in Islington High Street, said they had to close their waiting list two months ago after the number hit 500. They could not offer a date as to when they would take on new patients.

Meanwhile, another dentist, Kindanddental in Newington Green Road, said they had opened their books at the start of the year but had been forced to close them again not long after, as they became quickly “overrun”.

Another 11 dentists across the borough were not taking on new patients, while many were still waiting for new NHS contracts to come through.

Healthwatch Islington has, meanwhile, heard horror stories connected to the lack of access.

In one case, a patient waited more than 18 months for a root canal treatment before she was eventually referred to a dentist out of the borough. Another patient had all their teeth removed in a hospital procedure, but then spent six months trying to find a dentist that could offer them aftercare such as dentures. In the end Islington Healthwatch stepped in to assist, but Mr Buffery described the search as like “wandering through a maze”.

He said: “From the point of view of a patient it’s not good enough. We know that services are under huge pressure but there also weren’t very clear pathways. We had to ring so many different agencies to find the current way to help this particular patient.”

Healthwatch Islington have also called for dentists to alert patients if their name is at risk of being removed from lists.

Of the five surgeries taking on new patients, most could not offer an appointment earlier than late May or early June.
NHS England said: “As a result of the pandemic, practices are working extremely hard to work through the backlogs of dental care and ensuring urgent cases are dealt with.

“For those that are in pain or experiencing facial swelling, London has a round-the-clock NHS 111 service, diverting patients to the Dental Triage Service. Patients who do not routinely attend a practice and are unable to find a local practice which has capacity, will get an appointment at an urgent dental care centre.”

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