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NHS dental staffing crisis branded 'grotesque' as Dentaid charity brings much-needed relief to Hadleigh

The long-awaited visit of a dental charity to Suffolk brought much-needed treatment to toothache sufferers who have gone months without an NHS appointment.

Dentaid arrived in Hadleigh on Friday as part of its fourth visit to the county, in response to concerns about the number of people struggling to secure dental care because of the staff recruitment crisis afflicting the NHS.

The mobile dental unit set up in the car park of Hadleigh Pool and Leisure, with queues lining up throughout the day, from before 8am.

Dentaid volunteer Neil Sikka treats a patient in the charity's mobile dental unit. Contributed picture.
Dentaid volunteer Neil Sikka treats a patient in the charity's mobile dental unit. Contributed picture.

Jill Harding, communications director for Dentaid, said they saw 42 adults – most of whom were “in severe dental pain” – and six children, and they carried out many extractions and several fillings.

“We hope to return next year,” she added. “We had a wonderful welcome from the community and businesses in Hadleigh and we’ll look forward to returning next year.”

Hadleigh town councillor Angela Wiltshire said she was relieved to see people getting the care they needed, revealing she had heard from many residents experiencing “a lot of pain and misery and what sounded like the need for major interventions”.

But the Labour councillor told Suffolk News that she had mixed feelings about the day, because she claimed the situation had highlighted the current diminished state of the NHS and the impact on ordinary people.

“The relief that I felt, that people were going to come and be treated and that Dentaid’s valuable time wouldn’t be wasted, was replaced with anger that something like this is considered an appropriate way to address health need,” she said.

“When you see women with babies waiting hours for the chance to see a dentist, terrified young men begging to have teeth taken out, older people who have paid their national insurance and taxes all their lives, all reduced to trusting strangers with their treatment because they cannot register with an NHS dentist, it’s actually grotesque.

“It may be this Government’s aim to undermine and then strip the assets out of the NHS and leave people angry at hard working professionals, but it’s really not working.

“Many of the patients I met today are angry at the Government and they understand that many parts of the NHS have been starved of resources, talked down and then sold off.

“They told me that they are not angry with NHS staff anywhere. They realise that we are all suffering for years of Tory austerity, and that there is more to come.

“I am still receiving messages from people who sadly couldn’t make it, and from those who did and who are so grateful.”

Cllr Wiltshire praised the generosity of all those who had contributed towards the costs of Dentaid’s visit, and hailed the “professionalism and kindness” of the Dentaid staff and volunteers, as well as Abbeycroft Leisure for providing the host site.

“I feel a bit emotional because it was quite a rollercoaster,” she added.

“Feeling so angry and relieved and moved by people’s stories and then seeing them not in pain any more – it was hard going, but such a privilege to be able to facilitate and help.”