Nearest NHS dentist? Just 36 miles away

PEOPLE in the Bradley Stoke area are facing a 36-mile trip to reach the nearest dentist accepting new adult NHS patients.

The NHS Find a Dentist website says the closest practice currently open to new adult patients is in Marlborough in Wiltshire.

For children aged 17 and under, the nearest practice open to new NHS patients is 18 miles away, in Bath.

A spokesperson for NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board, which is responsible for NHS services in the area, said: “We are aware that access to NHS dentistry in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire is challenging and we are working hard to try and improve the situation for local people.

“We continue to engage extensively with local dental clinicians, their representatives and partners, as part of a wider South West Dental Reform programme, to encourage and support them to continue to provide services for NHS patients.”

The ICB said people with an urgent dental need could call 111 to access one of 64 appointments available each week.

The profession’s official body, the British Dental Association, says the “access crisis” facing the area is typical of the situation around the country.

It blames the “long discredited” NHS dental contract first introduced in 2006, which has led to severe recruitment and retention problems.  

Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee recommended in July last year that it should be reformed, after carrying out an inquiry.

The government said in December that it accepted the committee’s recommendations and “must do more to ensure that everyone can access an NHS dentist”.

But the BDA said it was still waiting for the government to publish its recovery plan and said it had “singularly failed to show it shares the aspirations of the Committee”.

BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: “The Government claim they want access for all but appear unwilling to make any commitments that could actually achieve that.

“We’ve heard big ambitions but no action, and our patients will continue paying the price.”

Filton and Bradley Stoke’s Labour candidate for MP, Claire Hazelgrove, was commended in the House of Commons for raising local stories of dentistry challenges with the Shadow Health Secretary, and for her public survey on the issue of dentistry for local people. 

Figures revealed that, of the eight dental surgeries who have provided a recent update in the Filton and Bradley Stoke constituency, none are currently accepting any new adult or child patients. 

Claire Hazelgrove said: “Patients in communities across the Filton and Bradley Stoke constituency are finding it impossible to see a dentist, with some having to resort to DIY dentistry. 

“I’m out knocking on doors and listening all year round, and I know this is a big issue here in our communities. Like many, I don’t have an NHS dentist myself and I know and share the worry that can cause. 

“Labour has a plan to rescue NHS dentistry from this crisis and get patients seen on time again.“In contrast to the current Conservative MP voting against rescuing NHS dentistry, I was grateful to the Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting MP, for speaking on my behalf in the House of Commons in support of doing so, and to share the story of a lady in Filton. 

“Her and her father’s dentist went private and cancelled their appointments, having recently diagnosed her with dental disease and her elderly father, who has dementia, as needing a tooth removed so that he could eat. This is not what local people should expect.” 

Metro Mayor Dan Norris said that  access to an NHS  dentist has “fallen off a cliff” and he is particularly concerned about the long-term impact on children, with tooth decay now the most common reason for hospital admission for young children, some of whom are having to miss school in pain.

Some 55% of children in South Glos have missed out on seeing an NHS dentist in the past year. Only 39% of the area’s adults have seen a dentist in the past two years, .

Mr Norris said because most high street dentists have now shut their doors to new NHS patients, which has made it “virtually impossible” for thousands in the West to get an appointment.

Mr Norris says: “It’s getting harder and harder to see an NHS dentist. Not only is that a disaster for people now, it is storing up serious problems for the future.

“Under the Conservative Government, access to NHS dentistry has fallen off a cliff. If that’s what they’ve done to one part of our NHS it feels like the outlook is bleak for other services too under their mismanagement.

“The crisis in dental care is a symptom of nearly 14 years of Conservative rule – propped up by the Lib Dems to begin. More and more people are telling me it’s time for a new approach.”