Norfolk remains ‘dental desert’, new research shows

Patients across Norfolk are still struggling to access NHS dental care, a survey shows.

Healthwatch Norfolk discovered that no practices are accepting new NHS patients, more practices have opted to only take private patients, and concerns about this represent around a third of all enquiries it receives.

The organisation, set up to hear the views of people across the county and feed it back to health and social care leaders to help shape services, decided to take another look at the issue.

Twelve months ago, its team rang around fifty practices selected at random but drawn from different council areas across the county.

It wanted to  gather evidence for the Government’s Health and Social Care Select Committee to give a snapshot of the issues people are being faced.

The team repeated the process a year later to find out how things have changed and if there are any improvements.

The key findings were:

  • No practices contacted by Healthwatch Norfolk are registering new NHS patients of any age in Norfolk. One is offering a check-up service for children but cannot register them as patients.
  • This was affecting people of all ages and backgrounds across the county.
  • More practices have left the NHS dental system and are only offering private appointments.
  • Healthwatch Norfolk is hearing fewer complaints from patients struggling to get emergency appointments through, but some people finding it challenging to get one.
  • Around 43 per cent of Healthwatch Norfolk’s enquiries between January 2023 and January 2024 related to people unable to access NHS dental care, around the same as the number of enquiries received in the previous 12 months.
  • During the research, the team also found there were long waiting lists to register as an NHS patient an NHS appointment at some practices. West Earlham Dental Practice in Norwich had 4000 people waiting, and Dentistry For You in Marham, near Swaffham, had almost 6000 people on its list.
  • Six per cent could not take on 111 emergencies referred to them and 20 per cent had stopped seeing private patients.
  • MyDentist in North Walsham cannot accept new patients
  • Rookwood Dental Practice in Attleborough said it could take on new NHS patients when it had capacity to treat them.
  • Bupa Dental Care in Gorleston is not accepting any new NHS or private patients.

The findings come following the Government’s recent National Dental Recovery Plan which promised improvements including offering financial incentives to encourage dentists to work in areas where there was a lack of NHS care and the deployment of dental vans with staff on board to rural and coastal locations.

A long-term action plan to tackle the issue in Norfolk is also due to be announced by the county’s NHS bosses this Spring.

You can read Healthwatch Norfolk’s full findings here

Healthwatch Norfolk is ensuring the issue of lack of NHS care remains in the forefront of decision-makers minds with a campaign for the rest of the year.

From the Spring, Norfolk Dental Watch will launch. This will see Healthwatch Norfolk encourage people across the county to share their stories via a survey so the organisation can get a clear picture on the issues around lack of care.

People can respond via an online survey, by calling Healthwatch Norfolk or by sending in a video answering key questions filmed on their mobile phone or tablet.

The results of this will form part of Healthwatch Norfolk’s first-ever Dental Summit which will be held in the autumn and will see the results of this published, along with a chance for people to put questions and get practical advice from a panel of experts at the event, which will be held in Norwich in the autumn.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: “Lack of access to NHS dental care remains one of the subjects we hear more about than anything else when we are talking to communities around the county.

“While we appreciate some of the issues around dental care access are reliant on Government policy, we are keen to see what can be done on a local and regional level to improve things while also ensuring MPs of all parties continue to highlight the concerns about NHS non-emergency dental care at a national high level.

“The autumn will also mark the first six months of whatever health officials come up with to help ease the pressure locally and we can take stock of that, as well as understand more about what everyone in Norfolk can do to try to ensure the county gets the NHS dental service it deserves.”