North Wales health board under fire over dental services
Dale Spridgeon, local democracy reporter
People are having to wait “days on end” for emergency dental care with others finding their calls unanswered altogether, an MS has claimed.
Arfon MS Siân Gwenllian said her caseload was “inundated” with adults and children unable to get an NHS dentist.
Mrs Gwenllian said her constituents had faced waiting lists from between two to five years, many waited “days on end” for emergency help whilst others were left hanging on helplines.
“Some ended up dialling a specialist line, up to 200 times, others often don’t receive a response,” she said.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board [BCUHB] said work was being done to ensure more people were being seen in a timely manner.
Concerns were also raised by Ynys Môn MS Rhun ap Iorwerth about the availability of dentists for island residents, saying many looked “far and wide.”
And last week, Mrs Gwenllian also asked the Welsh Government’s Health Minister, for an update on the North Wales Dental Academy (NWDA) plans.
It is hoped it will provide training and support for dentists, helping alleviate the issues.
A Welsh Government spokesperson confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, that the academy would be “opened in phases, staring early next year – once it was up to full capacity.”
But Mr ap Iorwerth questioned whether the dental academy would “make any difference,” warning “it shouldn’t be used as a means to disinvest in services elsewhere.”
Welsh Government figures revealed the number of NHS dental patients treated by health boards, over the past two years.
Lower than average
BCUHB’s dental treatment figures were among the lowest in the two years up to December 31, lower than the Wales average.
They showed 222,674 patients – 31.7 percent of patients – were treated. This included 55,079 children which was 39.8 percent of children, and 167,595 adults, (29.7 percent).
Wales-wide, 1113, 535, were treated (35.1 per cent) with treatment rates of 43.6 percent for children and 33 per cent for adults.
Responding to concerns over dental provision, Gill Harris, BCUHB’s deputy CEO and executive director of integrated care, said: “It is fair to say every health board in Wales struggled to see enough NHS dental patients during the pandemic.
“The stats quoted represent the numbers of unique patients who have accessed services within the health board area over the 24 months to December 31.
“Access levels under the same metric were 30.84% at end June 2022 and are expected to climb steadily.
“During the pandemic aerosol generating procedures had to be stopped.
“Consequently, practices have needed to make huge investments in air filtration systems in order to restart the treatment of patients.
“We are now seeing more people.
“In addition, Welsh Government has allowed health boards to make a contract variation for practices.
“These updated contracts should, in effect, allow a higher number of patients with the greatest need for treatment to be seen.
“It should also allow practices to see unregistered patients, we are hopeful fewer people who need urgent care will be left waiting for treatment than under the old contractual system.”
She added “All practices have been asked to provide treatment on the basis of clinical need and risk and to provide access to new patients as capacity permits.
“We’re recruiting additional triage nurses/call handlers on the Dental Helpline, contacted via 111, and establishing non-urgent access clinics across the health board.
“We are establishing a North Wales Dental Academy to assist in the education, recruitment and retention of dental care professionals and we have a commissioning exercise, looking at increasing dental service provision, under way.”
It comes as Wales’ new Chief Dental Officer Andrew Dickenson revealed a shake-up of NHS dental services.
NHS dental contracts are changing – the practice of recalling adults for check-ups every six-months will end. (Under 18s will still be called six monthly.)
More than three-quarters (78%) of NHS dental practices have signed up to the new contract which says it focuses on “preventive care and treatment.”
The changes also reflect improvements in dental health.
Professor Dickenson said: “People are now much better at maintaining their personal oral health.”
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