Concern that £50m national fund for extra dentist appointments will not solve 'complete crisis' in Portsmouth

CONCERNS have been raised that a national £50m fund to offer extra dental appointments is ‘merely a drop in the ocean’ with dentistry in Portsmouth in ‘complete crisis.’

NHS England has allocated the cash to provide 350,000 extra dentist appointments across the country for use throughout February and March to deal with Covid-19 backlog.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt welcomed the funding and urged the city to put in a bid for a slice of the £50m.

She said: ‘Our commissioners must bid for this money. I have written that they do this today.

Woman receiving a dental treatment. Picture: Adobe Stock

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Portsmouth records a 'cataclysmic' drop in number of NHS dentists

‘The Department of Health and Social Care recognises we are one of the most affected areas.

‘There is provision available and no excuses for a dental service being stood up immediately. I also suggest that there needs to be a central booking system to deal with the number of people who need access.

‘We have been raising this for two years. We have also identified where under used provision is in the city. No excuse for this not happening now.’

As reported, Portsmouth has seen the number of available dental appointments plummet in recent years, stemming from the loss of three Colosseum practices in 2019 - leaving 20,000 people without an NHS dentist.

Although two new NHS contracts were awarded - to Smile Dental Care in Hanway Road, Buckland, and Cosham Dental Surgery in Cosham high street - the Cosham site has yet to open up to NHS patients.

According to the NHS data, by the end of March 2021 just 90 NHS dentists were operating in the city, a 26 per cent fall compared to the previous year.

Through the £50m package NHS England said children, people with learning disabilities, autism, or severe mental health problems will be prioritised for the appointments as part of a dentistry 'treatment blitz.’

The service also said dentists who help to tackle the backlog will be paid more than a third on top of their normal session fee if they choose to work outside of hours including early mornings and weekends.

But Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan believed more was needed to help the city.

He said: ‘NHS dentistry in Portsmouth is in complete crisis but this funding is simply a drop in the ocean.

‘Our city has lost more than a quarter of its NHS dentists in the last 12 months, and appointments for adults and children are well below the national average.

‘Without urgent intervention this government risks presiding over generational damage to patient care in our city and across the country. I will continue to raise this issue in parliament.’

Chairman for Healthwatch Portsmouth, Roger Batterbury, shared his concerns.

‘We are pleased that additional funding of £50 million is being made available to provide what we hope will bring some immediate relief to the city but we need more actual dentist practices offering NHS dental appointments for both routine and urgent dental treatment,’ he said.

‘We have been told by NHS England that dentists need to offer to provide these extra appointments outside of their contracted opening hours and so are waiting to hear expressions of interest from dentists in the city.

‘At that point they will be able to tell Healthwatch Portsmouth how many NHS dental appointments will be available in the city from next month.

Portsmouth is still waiting for the dental surgery in Cosham to open, which had been due to open last April. We have heard today that the surgery is finalising arrangements for staffing and is due to open next month. This should provide immediate additional capacity in the city.’

And Neil Carmichael, chairman of the Association of Dental Groups, added: ‘Additional funding is always welcome to help more patients get an NHS dental appointment. However, Portsmouth has been suffering from an acute shortage of NHS dentists for over two years – put simply, we need more dentists.

‘Only proper workforce planning and reform of the broken units of dental activity contract will sustain NHS dentistry in Portsmouth and other coastal communities.’

The British Dental Association stated that since March 2020, 38 million appointments have been 'lost' across England due to lockdown restrictions and infection prevention measures.

The association has also warned that the backlog could take years to clear - while the funding is a 'time-limited' package that has to be used by the end of March this year.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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