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NHS dentistry complaints surge by 66pc in five years: PHSO Ombudsman

Dental Tribune Pakistan

Dental Tribune Pakistan

Wed. 8 November 2023


LONDON: The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has highlighted a substantial 66pc surge in complaints concerning NHS dental services over the past five years, with the number of grievances rising from 1,193 in 2017-18 to 1,982 in 2022-23.

These complaints predominantly comprise concerns about escalating fees, deteriorating standards of care, and the mounting challenges faced by patients in accessing NHS dental services across England. The data also reveals a significant increase in the proportion of upheld complaints, soaring from 42pc to an alarming 78pc during the same period.

Expressing his apprehension, Ombudsman Rob Behrens says, "Inadequate dental care leaves patients not only frustrated and in pain but also out of pocket. Both patients and dental professionals deserve a more effective system that guarantees quality care. The issues pertaining to access, such as limited appointment availability and insufficient treatment options, are consistently raised in the complaints we receive. Recent incidents of individuals resorting to self-extraction of teeth and long queues outside dental facilities for NHS appointments underscore the urgent need to address these pressing matters."

This escalation in complaints surpasses the figures recorded for other sectors of NHS care, including general practitioners (GPs), hospitals, and mental health care, with the overall average complaint standing at 60pc, as confirmed by the ombudsman.

Recent statistics from Healthwatch indicate that the attendance rates for NHS dental services continue to lag below pre-pandemic levels. For instance, as of June this year, only 43pc of adults in England had visited an NHS dentist in the past 24 months, a decrease from the pre-pandemic rate of 52pc. Similarly, 56pc of children in England received treatment from an NHS dentist in the past 12 months, falling short of the pre-pandemic level of 59pc.

In a broader context, a total of 18.1 million adults in England received NHS dental treatment in the 24 months leading up to June 2023, marking a significant 17.5pc decrease from the 22 million reported in the 24 months before June 2019.

According to figures released by the Labour Party, approximately 70,000 patients sought dental care in emergency departments last year, yet the British Dental Association (BDA) argues that this number merely scratches the surface.

Eddie Crouch, Chair of the BDA, stated, "The crisis in NHS dentistry is exerting immense pressure on every aspect of our health service, from GP surgeries to A&E. Patients experiencing dental discomfort urgently require a dentist, but any meaningful progress hinges on concrete reforms and investments. Until then, millions will find themselves with nowhere to turn."

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