'I tried 43 dentists': City's struggles to find NHS dentist continue

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Healthwatch sheds light on continued struggles of finding an NHS dentist in Peterborough (Picture: PA Media)

Free dental or subsidised NHS dental care is available to people on income support, children under the age of 18 and pregnant women. 

But during the recent Healthwatch meeting held via zoom on Thursday (September 23) attendees heard that people are still finding it challenging to get an appointment with an NHS dentist, locally and nationally.

Peterborough Matters asked members of the public for their experiences and  received over 100 comments.

Some said they have “given up looking" and one person said they “called 43 dentists practices this week with no luck" .

Others said they had no option but to "go private for treatment," blaming the system rather than practices themselves.

Lizzie Livingston said: “NHS dentists are a no go. I was due treatment in March 2020, my appointment was cancelled and i am still waiting for a chance to have it done. Also have had no care throughout my pregnancy and now six months postpartum.” 

Molly-Elise Smith said: “I gave up after a year of trying to be registered with a dentist. When I had a serious problem with my wisdom teeth whilst pregnant, I had to go to the walk-in dentist in Peterborough city centre via 111.” 

Dee Cox resorted to 111 after no luck’: “I called my dentist to register my little boy and i was told they had no space available. I had to call six different dentists before I found one that would be taking on children. I've also had family members who have found it difficult to get registered and in the end resort to calling 111 to get emergency appointments.” 

Toni Boon-Knighton said: “My husband and I are registered with a Peterborough NHS dentist, but they won't let us register our two children as they are no longer taking on NHS patients. We have our boys on a waiting list at two different NHS dentists, they've been on the list for years but still not been taken on.” 

Rachel Manning said: “Don't get started. It's ridiculous trying to get myself and two of my daughters registered anywhere. My daughter needs treatment with a regular dentist before she can continue her treatment for having braces fitted. 

“If you have money and are willing to go private, then there's so many options, for anyone on NHS (and/or exempt) it's a nightmare!” 

Some people have also said they can only find a dentist miles away from home which is "inconvenient".

Shanaz Shakeel said: “I moved to Peterborough in April 2019, and since day one I've tried to change our dentist from Cambridge to here but just can't get onto register for NHS. They said they only have private places for our three children and we would have to pay. I regularly email all the dentists that are nearby where we live but get the same answer. 

“We still have to travel to Cambridge for dentist and orthodontist appointments.” 

Sonia Ahmed said: “I’ve managed to get my two little ones registered however finding an NHS practice taking on adults is another story. I currently hold an exemption certificate due to having a baby recently and this has made no difference. 

“I was told by numerous practices (called 30 no exaggeration) that finding somewhere that offers NHS in Peterborough is going to be next to impossible. 

“The closest I found to Peterborough for adults was in Spalding. Not ideal especially if travelling is an issue.” 

Hattie Frank added: “I've lived in Peterborough nearly 10 years, the only time I've managed to be seen by an NHS dentist in Peterborough is whilst I've been pregnant and had an exemption. 

“I recently called the dentist my three older children are registered with to register my two-year-old and they said they didn't have space or a waiting list. 

“The closest dentist I've found with a waiting list (no spaces) is in Oakham so I'm waiting for them to call so I can get my two-year-old seen. It shouldn't be like this, especially for children, they should be able to access a dentist without a 40-minute drive!” 

Lisa Partington-Webber said: “I have to drive 50 miles away to go to the dentist even though there is one seven minutes' walk from my house.” 

While Kim Dock makes a three-hour journey to see one: "I have found it impossible. We drive three hours back to where we used to live, as didn’t give up our NHS dentist there because we knew it’s not possible to see one in Peterborough. Our friends moved up eight years ago and haven’t managed to get one, we’ve tried hard!"

Despite a lot of challenging stories, some people said they have been “fortunate” to get an appointment in a timely manner. 

Rebecca Brisley: “I think I must be one of the lucky ones. I rang Eyrescroft dentist and they registered Jack right then. 

A local dentist also shared their views on the issues and said they receive a lot of “abuse” from people due to the situation. 

Maria Reeve said: “It’s not that the dentist doesn’t want to see you. Trust me they do. We try everything we can to see patients. But when the NHS system is falling us and cutting our budget it gets harder and harder to take patients on. 

"We are only allocated limited spaces per year and it’s horrible as we see families and half of them cannot get registered with us due to the NHS limiting us. 

“Us dentist/dental nurses get a lot of verbal abuse due to the fact the lack of NHS dental practices around and it’s not our fault. It’s the system failing us daily."

Healthcare champion Healthwatch Peterborough and Cambridgeshire says it’s continuing to highlight concerns of dental patients to the Clinical Commissioning Group and other authorities, but adds,  that this is a national problem. 

In a statement to Peterborough Matters, Healthwatch said: "Finding an NHS dentist across our area is the top issue people contact us about – and it remains one of our priorities. 

“A shortage of NHS dentists and dental nurses in the region and significant problems with recruitment were highlighted more than two years ago in our Finding an NHS Dentist report. 

“The Covid-19 shutdown of dentists has made existing problems worse for local people who need to access high street NHS dentist services and cannot pay for private treatment. 

“Although dentists have reopened, risk assessment and infection control regulations mean that they can see fewer patients each day. 

“Because of this, priority has gone to people needing urgent care. Some NHS dentists may be offering routine check-ups and treatments but it is limited. 

“We know that parents are struggling to get treatment for the children too. 

“We are meeting every two weeks to share people’s concerns and frustrations with NHS England and NHS Improvement, which plans and pays for dental services in our area. 

“We are also working with the local General Dental Council, to improve dental care provision but unfortunately there is no quick or simple fix.” 

In case of an emergency, pain, swelling or bleeding, Healthwatch has advice patients to call NHS 111 who will find you an urgent dental centre. 

The dentist will triage you, offering advice, antibiotics, or pain relief, and offer a face-to-face appointment if they think it necessary. 

You can try and find an NHS dentist here

Healthwatch further added that if after contacting several dental surgeries you still cannot find a dentist accepting NHS patients, call NHS England's Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233.