Dentist crisis 'number one issue' in Norfolk and Waveney, MPs warn
- Credit: PA/Mick Howes/Parliament
MPs in Norfolk and Waveney have been contacted more about the NHS dental crisis than any other issue over the last year, a Westminster debate has heard.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous was joined by colleagues from around East Anglia and across the country for a three-hour Westminster Hall debate about dentistry last week.
He said 56pc of patients new to practices in Waveney could not get an appointment, and, as of August 2021, the east of England had 174 fewer dentists than 12 months earlier.
It comes as NHS East of England awarded a contract to Apps Smiles for a new NHS dentist in Lowestoft, with similar contracts handed out in Norwich and King's Lynn - all of which are due to start from July 1.
Mr Aldous said: "NHS dentistry has been the number one issue in my inbox for the past nine to 10 months.
"This is a national crisis, though the problem in my constituency is acute.
"Dentists have retired, which has led to resources and dental capacity being taken away from the area, notwithstanding the increased need and demand following the pandemic.
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"Many of the remaining practices are experiencing difficulties in recruiting and retaining dentists, and the situation has been exacerbated by a lack of funding, with net government spending on general dental practice being reduced by a third over the past decade.
"As we emerge from Covid, the situation both locally and nationally has reached crisis point.
"Access to NHS dentistry is a problem that has been brewing for a long time.
"The situation can be likened to a house built on shallow and poor foundations.
"The earthquake of Covid has led to that house falling down.
"There are now parts of the country that are dental deserts.
"Tackling access for NHS dentistry, which has been neglected for 15 years, is an opportunity that we must grasp in order to demonstrate the levelling up of healthcare right across the UK.
"We must put in place an NHS dentistry system that is fit for the 21st century, instead of reversing into the 19th century."
MPs at the debate were critical of the current NHS dental contracts, which were introduced in 2006, with Mr Aldous saying they have been "widely recognised as not fit for purpose for some time".
Mr Aldous did note improvements had been seen since warning parliament the region risked becoming a dental desert last year.
He added there were a number of issues still to be tackled to address the problem, including a long-term funding stream and recruitment and retention of dental professionals.
North West Norfolk MP James Wild also spoke at the debate, highlighting that none of the 11 dental schools in England are in East Anglia.
The Conservative MP called for a new school to be created in King's Lynn to address the gap.
He did, however, welcome the news that two new contacts have been awarded to Smile Care Norfolk for services in King's Lynn.
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker, whose father was an NHS dentist for 34 years in Broadland, told the debate less than 25pc of children in Norfolk saw an NHS dentist in the 12 months to June 2021.
He said: "It is fair to say that we have a crisis in dentistry - we certainly do in my constituency.
"Not a week goes by when I do not receive casework from people who are in pain or who simply cannot get an appointment with an NHS dentist and cannot afford to go private.
"The fact is, we simply cannot get dentists to come and work in some of these rural locations."
Mr Baker echoed the call from Mr Wild, saying: "A dental training college in our part of the country would be very worthwhile.
"Alongside the Norwich Medical School, such a college would create jobs and opportunities and filter those into our part of the country.
"There is nowhere in the east of England to train dentists at the moment.
"We are crying out for some kind of provision to help us.
"Why can we not make it a requirement for newly qualified NHS dentists to have to do a year of training in an area of high need before they pass with flying colours?"
While new contracts were handed out in parts of Norfolk and Waveney, NHS England were unable to fill the vacancies for contracts in Fakenham and Thetford.
Jerome Mayhew, Broadland MP, added: "A constituent of mine had two fillings fall out, which is a fairly common experience.
"She was unable to get any dental treatment to deal with that, so she ended up having to ring 111.
"She was told that, because of the lack of dental provision in the county of Norfolk, she was encouraged to do a DIY filling - that was by 111.
"I very much welcome the decision by the department to award a new contract for dentistry for Fakenham, because it is the largest town in my constituency and we were down to a single NHS provider.
"However, as has already been mentioned, we have not been able to entice any dentist to take up that contract, even though the money is available.
"Why is it that a fantastic town such as Fakenham, which is a brilliant place to live, five miles from the gorgeous north Norfolk coast with a really lovely quality of life and relatively low housing costs, cannot attract anyone to take on the NHS dentistry contract that is available?"