Access to dentists in Wakefield: Struggle for appointments and treatment likely to continue, senior practitioner warns

The struggles of many people to access dental treatment are unlikely to be eased anytime soon, a senior Wakefield dentist has warned.

Friday, 9th April 2021, 9:34 am
Most dental practices in the district are not taking new patients on.

The vast majority of dental practices within the district are not taking on new patients, councillors were told on Thursday.

That was the case before the Covid pandemic started, though successive lockdowns have further restricted access to appointments and treatment for patients who are signed up to a practice.

Joe Hendron, who runs St Michael's Dental Practice on Dewsbury Road in Wakefield said changes to dentistry funding by national government in the mid-2000s were to blame for the issue.

Around a quarter of all five year-olds in the district have serious tooth decay, with schools now referring pupils to hospitals because of families' lack of access to the dentist.

Mr Hendron, who is also chair of the Wakefield and District Dental Committee, warned that the situation was unlikely to drastically change in the near future.

Speaking at a health scrutiny committee on Thursday, Mr Hendron explained: "Each practice is given a fixed sum of money to achieve a certain amount of activity.

"Once they've achieved that, even if they had time, space and the workforce to (take on more patients), they're unable to do so because NHS England won't shift the money around.

"It's something we've been crying out for as a profession that the money should be able to follow the patient, and that if practices are able to take on new patients - adults and children - they should be able to do so, because the NHS is there for all.

"The funding covers around about 54 per cent of the population, so if you're in that other section you'll struggle to get an NHS dentist."

Mr Hendron said that a small number of local practices would soon have more flexibility to take on more patients because of a new initiative.

In light of that he said the general prospects for the district, "May well improve to a small degree but it's not going to be significant".

He added: "There are no plans to further expand dental practices in Wakefield, to my knowledge.

"Sorry I'm the bearer of bad news. We're trying to do what we can, but it might be something that the local authority might be able to put pressure on the Department of Health to change.

"There are practices taking on patients from time to time. It can be a very arduous, difficult and stressful thing to have ring round lots of dentists, but there are those who are taking on new patients when capacity allows."

Mr Hendron said that dentists had lobbied the government to reinvest income from the sugar tax into oral health, but that their calls "had fallen on deaf ears".

The government says that revenue from the tax, which is applied on fizzy drinks, is put towards tackling childhood obesity.

Councillors also heard that around a quarter of five year-olds in the district were found to have had serious tooth decay.

Although that figure is down from a peak of around 40 per cent in 2012, hospitals are getting more referrals for tooth decay from primary schools, because of families being unable to access dentists.

The meeting was told that paediatric doctors are now carrying out more procedures on children for rotten teeth than they are for tonsillitis across the UK.

Local Democracy Reporting Service