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Thetford mother's urgent call for NHS to address shortage of dentists for children

A Thetford mother-of-three who has been unable to find NHS dentistry for her children for years has criticised the ‘appalling’ situation.

Marie Flowers believes thousands of families are in the same situation after increasing numbers of dental surgeries withdrew from NHS contracts for youngsters.

Her children – 13-year-old son Louis and eight-year-old twin daughters Jasmin and Amber – lost their places at a Bury St Edmunds dentist several years ago after Marie forgot to attend an appointment due to moving home and was struck off the list.

Marie Flowers hasn't been able to find an NHS dentist for her three children for years..Twins Jasmin and Amber, aged eight and Louis, 13....Picture by Mecha Morton. (43819026)
Marie Flowers hasn't been able to find an NHS dentist for her three children for years..Twins Jasmin and Amber, aged eight and Louis, 13....Picture by Mecha Morton. (43819026)

Ever since, she has phoned dental surgeries every few months to see if NHS places were available for her children – without success.

“The shortage of NHS dentists has been going on for a really long time,” said Marie.

“We should be entitled to NHS dentist care for our children but there are no places available anywhere. This issue needs to be addressed with some urgency by the NHS.”

Eventually, Marie contacted NHS England following her experiences, which found no fault with her being struck off the patient list at her original dentist.

“I understood why they did it, but what I don’t understand is how is it that the NHS are allowing surgeries to strike off patients when we are all entitled to care? Can you imagine if a doctor did that? And yet it is exactly the same thing,” said Marie.

Now, she feels she must pay for private dentistry so her children can receive the ‘care they deserve’, however being furloughed it is an expense she can ill afford.

“For all of their formative years they haven’t seen a dentist,” said Marie. “The girls have mostly adult teeth now and my son might need a brace of some description, but we wouldn’t know as we haven’t seen a dentist for years.

“I have no choice now, I’ll have to pay privately, but I don’t see why I should. It is all about income and finance. It is nothing about health and it is totally wrong,” said Marie.

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said:"This is sadly not a new situation for many people in Suffolk and one that has become one of our greatest concerns. We are being inundated with experiences detailing struggles in accessing dental services or even finding a surgery taking new patients under the NHS. We know of the pressures the dental care system has been under, but those who have needed help at times of pain have too often been left with no offers of assistance.

"With the support of local health commissioners, we have liaised with regional NHS commissioners on the critical necessity to address the lack of ready access to dental care for patients in pain and needing urgent care, particularly given the impact of pandemic measures.

"As a result of our ongoing action and despite dental care being a service that is nationally commissioned, we can report some progress. Local leaders agreed to contact dentists about their contractual requirements and the proportion of appointments being provided to NHS versus private-paying patients. We were pleased that NHS England and NHS Improvement has begun to take more action to address matters, and it remains our priority to improve the incredibly frustrating circumstances too many people are finding themselves in.

"Unfortunately, it is still uncertain when access to dental treatment will significantly improve. At the height of the pandemic, routine dental care was put on hold and this has meant there’s now an increased need for the services. Both of these factors alone have naturally resulted in a rigid pressure on practices.

"It should also be noted that all dental practices that see NHS patients follow contractual guidelines – any patient who is in pain should be seen, even if they are not regular attendees at a practice. The role of GPs and the 111 service are central to ensuring there is a coherent and joined up service.

“We recommend to all who get in touch with us to contact NHS England directly if they are searching for an NHS dentist or wish to raise concerns about this. And if people feel that their need for dental care is an emergency matter, they should of course contact 111 to see what they can provide and advise.”

A spokesperson for NHS England and NHS Improvement in the East of England, said: “We are committed to ensuring children in the East of England can access high quality dental care and we are working closely with dental providers to improve access to services.”

Anyone who needs urgent or emergency dental care should use the NHS 111 service.

- Two weeks ago, the Bury Free Press reported another mother’s struggle to find an NHS dentist for her daughters, after Guildhall Dental said it would stop treating children on the NHS from December 31. She contacted more than 70 dentists across the East of England, but was unable to find NHS provision: Bury St Edmunds mother struggling to find an NHS dentist for her daughters

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