Accessing NHS dental care and treatment became increasingly difficult during the pandemic, and we've been inundated with calls from people looking for an NHS dentist.
The issues raised included broken teeth, abscesses, and severe pain. Some people have been suddenly de-registered by their practice, and many were only able to find dentists offering private treatment which they could not afford.
Thanks to the feedback shared with Healthwatch South Gloucestershire, we were able to highlight the ongoing dental crisis with the NHS. As with all patient experience data, we forwarded a report containing anonymous comments to the Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, NHS England and Improvement, and Healthwatch England.
Stories from South Gloucestershire residents formed evidence used in a Healthwatch England report: Dentistry and the impact of COVID-19, which made national headlines and fuelled a parliamentary campaign urgently calling for NHS dental reform plans to create more equitable and affordable dental care.
Healthwatch South Gloucestershire’s Area Lead, Maisy Griffiths, co-produced a report with neighbouring Healthwatch Bristol, which covered feedback from when dentists were closed due to the pandemic and problems with accessing NHS treatment when they re-opened. In many cases, we heard that only private treatment was offered.
Our pandemic insights have been collated by Healthwatch England, and this data helped to reveal that some minority ethnic communities are less likely to be registered and have been more likely to struggle with accessing an NHS dentist.
Representing all three Healthwatch BNSSG areas, our Bristol Area Lead, Julie Bird, has compiled feedback from 13 Healthwatch organisations across the South West commissioning area. The South West Dental Network have agreed to look at how communication can be improved with patients.
Feedback has been shared with clinicians and updated for quarterly Dental Network Meetings. The NHS Dental Reform Programme workshops asked to use the data to focus their discussions.
In addition, Healthwatch called on the government to regularly update dental information on their websites, and we asked NHS Engand to ensure their "Find a dentist" website is kept up-to-date.
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