'Urgent action' needed on Portsmouth NHS dental crisis as MP asks minister to intervene
MINISTERS have been asked to intervene in Portsmouth’s broken NHS dental care system.
Portsmouth North’s Penny Mordaunt met health minister Maria Caulfield asking for ‘urgent action’ to help patients left in ‘extreme pain’ but with no dentist to help.
Cover for patients has been in decay since Colosseum Dental closed three surgeries in 2019 - with only two out of three replacements operational.
Now Ms Mordaunt has delivered a list of demands - backed by Portsmouth’s public health director and city council chief executive - to ministers.
Key to this is implementing a delayed change in NHS dental contracts to end the ‘current perverse incentives’ that mean it’s less profitable for dentists to work in deprived areas where work is often more complex.
Ministers have been warned the lack of care is hitting school attendance and putting pressure on GPs when patients have nowhere else to turn.
The list of requests includes:
:: A mobile dentist to tackle the ‘severity of the situation we face’ for those patients in the middle of courses of treatment but who have lost their cover.
:: An urgent start to the final Colosseum Dental replacement contract, which has been awarded.
:: The University of Portsmouth to become a dental school for the south east - building on its dental technician training - to help tackle the ‘long-term failure to train enough dentists’.
:: Extra payments to NHS dentists to help prioritise the vulnerable - including looked after children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people.
Ms Mordaunt said: ‘The minister was in agreement with our suggestions, both long and short term.
‘I am expecting the department to meet local commissioners next week. I think we will get some action.’
Among the patients left in pain and without a dentist is medical physicist Shakardokht Jafari.
The 44-year-old had discomfort in a tooth in June and called her Portsmouth dentist - only to be told she had been removed from the patient register as she had not been for two years.
The North End mum was infuriated - she had only not attended for two years as she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer while pregnant with her son Sina, who is now two.
She tried to get a new NHS dentist but after two months of several referrals and antibiotics eventually had to spend £1,500 on a root canal and crown in August after the tooth worsened with an abscess.
Shakardokht said what should have been ‘superficial’ work ended up being much more serious because of the delay.
She told The News: ‘I was so angry at that time as I was going through so much pain unnecessarily.
‘I had that much pain for a few nights I couldn’t sleep at all.
‘I just can’t understand the system because I think having healthy teeth is as important for the wellbeing of the person as any other illness.
‘I can’t understand why the system has gone so bad compared to other healthcare issues.
‘If I have another problem I can go to A&E or have an appointment with my GP. I just don’t like this system - something is wrong with that.’
And she’s not alone. Connor Rich, 26, currently has a dental abscess and is unable to find an NHS dentist.
The 111 service won’t refer him to an emergency appointment as he is not currently in pain.
He said: ‘If nothing is going to happen to it, it’s going to get worse. When I call 111 they say I’m not in any pain so I don’t match any criteria.
‘I won’t match any until I’m on the floor in agony.’
Connor, from Somers Town, is on Employment and Support Allowance due to his anxiety - but said he was advised by the 111 service to consider paying privately.
This is not something he can afford.
‘I get little jolts every now and then but I’m not really in any pain,’ he said.
‘But I’ve had it for two and a half to three months. Trying to get a dentist is insane.’
As reported, the number of dentists in the city has dropped from 121 to 90 since 2019.
When Smile Dental Care opened a surgery in the former Hanway Medical Practice in Hanway Road, Buckland, in June it was quickly overwhelmed.
It was one of the replacement surgeries for Colosseum Dental and commissioned to provide 21,500 units of dental activity a year. One UDA is equivalent to an examination, and three covers a filling.
The News has contacted NHS England, which commissions dental care, for comment.
Asked about becoming a south east college of dentistry, the University of Portsmouth said it plays an ‘active and important role in providing much-needed, free of charge dental treatment for the residents of Portsmouth’..
A spokesman said this is done through training for dental nursing, hygiene and therapy students and placements for King’s College London dentistry students.
But he added: ‘We are happy to work with others to improve the provision of dental care and training of the dental workforce in Portsmouth and the wider region, but these discussions have yet to take place.’
When approached by The News, the Department of Health and Social Care pointed to how dental services were recovering from the pandemic, even though the situation in Portsmouth predates this.
A statement said: 'Dental practices have been able to deliver their full range of face-to-face care since June 2020 and urgent care is back to pre-pandemic levels thanks to the hard work of staff.
'We are working closely with the NHS so more patients can be seen while minimising infection risks. Urgent or vulnerable patients and children will be prioritised and eligible groups, including the most vulnerable, are exempt from dental charges.'
‘I can’t get a dentist’
PEOPLE trying to get a dentist appointment or sign up for NHS provision have expressed their frustration.
Posting on The News’ Facebook page, Sarah McClintock said: ‘I can't get a dentist and I’m pregnant and can’t even get one for my baby boy.
‘I got kicked off my last dentist as hadn’t seen them for so long but it was them that kept cancelling on me as my dentist left or went on holiday.
‘This happened for at least three years and then when I couldn’t get an appointment to suit me I left it a while before calling to book in and they said I wasn’t on the list any more.’
Jake Hatton said: ‘There’s no dentists for me to join, not even a waiting list.’
Runa Chowdhury said: ‘Been looking for NHS dentist for my kids for over two years. Have had to join them to a dental group out of my area.’
Karin Sturgess said: ‘Having to pay privately to go on the books of the dentist. It’s nearly triple the price of being an NHS patient.’
Linda Crozier said: ‘Hadn’t been for a long time and when I needed one unable to find NHS dentist – tried every single one in Portsmouth – ended up going private – very expensive mistake on my part.’
Gillian Anna Hickey added: ‘Something needs doing. My dentist has cancelled my appointment three times this year so far.’
Holly Molyneaux said: ‘My dentist removed me and the kids off the list with no notice as I cancelled an appointment when I was pregnant as I had really sensitive teeth. Now we haven't got a dentist.’
Jessie Beales said: ‘I have a four-year-old that has never been seen as I’ve been trying for years to get him into one.’