Parents face lengthy waits to register children for free dental treatment in Wales
Parents hoping to register their young children for free dental treatment in Wales are likely to face a frustrating search and may be asked for an upfront fee of more than £100 to get an initial appointment, we can reveal.
Public Health Wales – the promotional arm of NHS Wales – states boldly on its website: “You should start taking your child to the dentist as soon as their first teeth come through, and certainly by their first birthday.”
It continues: “To find a dentist visit: www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk or call 111”.
However, another section of the website includes the statement: “NHS 111 Wales does not hold information on whether a general dental practice is accepting new NHS patients. This will need to be discussed with the dental practice directly.”
And a further statement says: “Dental screening is no longer offered at nurseries and schools. We recommend you take your child to a dental practice regularly for check-ups.”
A young mother from Cardiff contacted us to tell us about the difficulties she had experienced when trying to register her son with various dental practices in the city.
Asking not to be named, she said: “I registered my son on the waiting list when he was just 16 weeks old, at the recommendation of our health visitor, who told me that it was taking a few months.
“After six months of not hearing anything I asked on a local Facebook group if anyone had successfully been given an NHS dental place for their child.
“It became clear that the majority of people had been waiting for at least 12 months and often they were allocated dentists in completely different areas of the city to where they live.
“I decided to phone local dental surgeries directly to see if they had any spaces but none were available.
“One surgery told me that they could fit my son in for an appointment but it would cost £110 upfront for the first consultation and then we would have to use their dental plan.”
The mother then decided to submit a Freedom of Information request to find out how many people were on the NHS general dentistry waiting list in Cardiff and the Vale University Health Board area at the beginning of March 2023.
The board told her there were 19,496 people on the waiting list, with five individuals having waited the longest at 62.7 weeks.
She also asked how many had been waiting longer than the target period, but was told there is not currently a target time.
Asked to respond to the mother’s concerns, a spokeswoman for the health board said, “Access to NHS dental services across Wales has been under significant pressure post-pandemic, and this is also reflective of the position within Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.
“Despite the capacity of the service and increased demand, every effort has been made to improve access to NHS dental services for patients.
“Across Cardiff and Vale, the health board introduced a centralised waiting list to measure the demand for NHS dental services in the region and support patients to find an NHS dentist near their home address. “The centralised waiting list is currently undergoing validation, which will enable the health board to have a more accurate understanding of those patients who are awaiting allocation to an NHS dentist.
“While the number of people across Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan awaiting an NHS dentist is high, the health board is working closely with dental practices that offer NHS dental services to increase urgent access.
“Furthermore, under the Dental Contract Reform 2023/2024, a high proportion of people will be taken off the centralised waiting list and allocated an NHS dentist as part of the contractual requirements.
“Under the Dental Contract Reform, from April 2022 to February 2023 a total of 27,793 new patients have been seen within NHS dental services across Cardiff and Vale.
“Any patient across Cardiff and the Vale, who does not have an NHS dentist and is experiencing dental pain or trauma, can contact the emergency dental helpline on 0300 10 20 247.
“A Cardiff and Vale 24/7 clinician will conduct an assessment, provide over the phone advice and guidance on pain relief, and if required an appointment will be booked at the emergency dental clinic.”
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