Misery for Bury St Edmunds dental patients to continue after west and mid Suffolk left out of plans for new services
There is no end in sight for Bury St Edmunds patients caught up in the ‘worsening crisis’ in NHS dental care in West Suffolk.
Independent watchdog Healthwatch Suffolk this week described the NHS dental system as ‘unquestionably broken and completely unsatisfactory’.
The damning verdict comes after it emerged NHS England plans for seven new dental services across Suffolk and Norfolk failed to include any in west or mid Suffolk.
NHS England is in the process of procuring new dental services in both counties, however Thetford is the only town in this region set to benefit.
The news will come as a blow to thousands of people struggling to find an NHS dentist.
Bianca Neumann-May has been unable to attend a routine check-up for two years. Initially the pandemic disrupted her appointments, however she was then disappointed to receive a text from Moreton Hall-based Saxon Dental Practice informing her all routine examinations had been cancelled due to two dentists leaving through work-related stress.
The text invited patients to call to re-book for 2022, however Bianca said the telephone was consistently unanswered, with no facility to leave a message.
“That makes it impossible to book for next year,” said Bianca. “So I rang every single dentist in the East of England and no one will take us. Every dentist I spoke to within a two-hour radius says their books are closed and there are hundreds of people on the waiting list. In the end we found one dentist which said it would taken us on as private patients but it raises the question – should people get into debt for their health?”
The number of surgeries offering NHS dentistry in Bury has been shrinking for years, with Northgate Business Park’s Sycamore House the latest to announce in May it would slash its NHS services after the contract pushed it to the ‘edge of viability’.
This week, NHS England said it was inviting tenders for seven dental services ‘lots’ – including Thetford, Norwich, Fakenham, Lowestoft, Leiston and two in King’s Lynn.
The new services are expected to start in July 2022, with the contracts initially lasting four years nine months.
An NHS spokesperson in the East of England said: “We are committed to ensuring everyone can access high-quality dental care and we are pleased to currently be in the process of procuring new dental services for Norfolk and Suffolk which will provide new services for adults and children, operating from 8am-8pm, seven days a week, for routine as well as urgent appointments.”
Meanwhile, patients needing urgent dental care have also struggled to access treatment.
Maxine Vince, of Risbygate Street, said she was charged more than £2,000 for care following an abscess, despite trying to book an emergency NHS appointment via the 111 service.
“I just cannot pay it, I am so ill now,” said Maxine. “No one is doing NHS, every practice offers only private treatment to get you to pay.”
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “We hear daily from people struggling to access NHS dental care and there is huge inequality developing around who can access the services they need.
“Our concern lies mostly, but not exclusively, with those who simply cannot afford to pay for private care and who may suffer other consequences to their physical health and mental health as a result.
“We have seen no significant progress to meaningfully address this worsening crisis and the plans for new services appear unlikely to address the scale of need that is developing within the population – particularly for those who may be unable to travel to access dental care. This is particularly true of the west of Suffolk, which is not directly covered by any of the seven lots currently out to tender from NHS England and Improvement.”
MP Jo Churchill said she agreed with constituents that NHS dental provision in Bury and Stowmarket had been ‘poor for some time’.
“I am currently working with the regional commissioner to drive more services into west and mid Suffolk, similar to those contracts that have been put out to tender in Norfolk and on the Suffolk coast,” she said.
“I will continue my constant dialogue with the commissioner and others to ensure we deliver for patients across Suffolk.”
NHS England said urgent dental care was available for anyone who needed it, adding that in April last year 32 urgent dental care hubs were established in the East of England. Access is via referral only – call NHS 111 if you need urgent care.
Saxon Dental Practice was approached for comment.