Healthwatch Portsmouth chairman Roger Batterbury said there had been continuing delays with roll-out of new practices in the city and said there was no incentive for those already here to take on more NHS work.
‘People are desperate to access urgent NHS dental care to treat their painful cracked teeth and abscesses,’ he said. '’They feel forced to pay for private dental treatment even though they cannot afford it just to seek relief.’
His comments come as NHS England announced £50m in extra funding to improve provision across the country, including almost £7m for the south east, with a ‘dentistry push’ focused on children and people with mental health issues.
The funding will be available for existing practices to offer extra appointments outside of normal hour.
Chief dental officer for England Sara Hurley said the extra money represented ‘unprecedented action’ to boost services and that dental services were ‘a vital part of the NHS’.
Data shows that 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.
The decline was described as ‘cataclysmic’ by the chairman of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Dental Committee who said greater financial support was needed.
‘There's been a slow erosion of funding for decades,’ Phil Gowers said. ‘It’s now reached the point where it’s just not sustainable and we’ve seen this with contracts being handed back.’
Mr Batterbury said Healthwatch Portsmouth had 'continually' raised the issue with the NHS but said updates on new provision had been rare.
Since the sudden 2019 closure of the three Colosseum dental practices the only new NHS dental provision has been at Hanway Road.
He said a contract was also awarded for Cosham Dental Practice which was due to begin taking on new patients in April last year but has yet to do so. He said there had been no progress update since November.
The difficulty in getting NHS treatment is expected to be exacerbated in April with Medika Dental in Southsea set to go private.
‘Since the closure of [the Colosseum] dental surgeries in the city there have been regular contacts by members of the public giving feedback on the lack of access to NHS dentists in the city,' Mr Batterbury added.
‘The pandemic reduced availability further [and] the pressures have grown to the extent that people without the means to afford it are feeling that they are being forced to pay for private dental treatment for care they need urgently.
‘Some school-age children in the city have never been seen by a dentist for a check-up.’
He said it was ‘likely’ to be at least a year before problems in the city are resolved and has called for an overhaul of the way contracts are awarded. He said the existing system rewarded more complex treatments rather than preventative work.