Health chiefs have refused to answer councillors’ questions about the crisis in dentistry and how it has affected patients in Brighton and Hove, a meeting was told this afternoon (Wednesday 24 February).
The statutory watchdog Healthwatch is to take up the matter after its own research found that people were being left untreated, in pain and resorting to DIY dentistry.
A survey by Healthwatch Brighton and Hove had found that 60 per cent found it hard or very hard to obtain dental help since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
And 59 per cent were dissatisfied with waiting times to see someone while 25 per cent never heard back from the dental service they contacted.
Frances McCabe, who chairs Healthwatch Brighton and Hove, spoke out at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) this afternoon.
She said: “The HOSC and Healthwatch across Sussex have identified serious deficits in the NHS dental service for routine and urgent care during the pandemic which has left patients in pain and without dental check-ups.
“This has been continually raised by Healthwatch with NHS England who commission the service.
“The chair of HOSC has also asked NHS England twice to attend HOSC and they have refused.
“Would the chair write jointly with Healthwatch to identify again the issues and express our concerns that they are not willing to attend HOSC to be scrutinised?”
Labour councillor Amanda Evans, who chairs the council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said that she would write a joint letter to NHS England.
She added: “I’ve asked twice for them to come to HOSC and twice they have refused.”
Ms McCabe said that, after covid, it was the subject of greatest concern among patients, adding: “It’s a really serious issue.”
Nationally, Healthwatch England said: “We urge the government to take urgent action to address issues with access to NHS dental care as we continue to hear from people about their poor experiences.”
In addition, Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, raised the matter with the Conservative Health Secretary Matt Hancock in a written question.
Last month she asked what assessment he had made of whether more patients had needed emergency dental treatment as a result of reduced dental service activity because of covid-19 infection prevention and control rules.
Junior health minister Jo Churchill replied, saying that figures would be available soon.
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