Getting an appointment with an NHS dentist is no easy feat.
In fact, it’s become one of the public’s main concerns about the NHS.
A BBC survey last year found that 90% of surgeries across the UK were not accepting new adult patients. A problem caused (in part) due to the pandemic, but also due to previous governmental changes to how dental surgeries are paid for the NHS treatments they provide.
Millions of patients – 4.75 million to be exact – have been denied an appointment with an NHS dentist when they need it. And as a consequence of their delayed dental treatment, tens of thousands of those patients have ended up in A&E with tooth decay.
The alarming decline of NHS dentistry
According to a recent analysis by the Labour Party, nearly 70,000 people with tooth decay visited an emergency department in 2022-2023. Approximately 52,000 of them were treated for a dental abscess and 15,000 were treated for dental caries caused by the disease.
In addition to these alarming statistics, MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee also highlighted how some patients are resorting to ‘DIY dentistry’ – choosing to pull teeth out with pliers, create teeth out of resin and use superglue due to the dire state of NHS dentistry.
The government has consulted on how these delays and access to NHS dentists could be improved. But its long-awaited dental recovery plan has yet to be published.
If it wins power, the Labour Party has promised to tackle ‘dentist deserts’, by injecting £111 million a year into the service and providing an extra 700,000 urgent dentist appointments. However, at this point, such promises are just words – words that will be of little solace to the thousands of patients who have fallen victim to dental negligence in the last couple of years.
Dissatisfied with the dental care you have received?
Or perhaps more accurately, the care you haven’t received.
As leading medical negligence solicitors, we have excellent knowledge and experience in dental negligence claims. If you believe you’ve been affected by the current NHS dentistry crisis, this is our practical advice and guidance on the best steps to take.
Seek urgent care
If you’ve been unable to find an appointment with an NHS dentist and your dental issue has suddenly worsened (e.g. you’re experiencing severe pain, heavy bleeding, swelling of the mouth), you can get help by calling NHS 111. They should be able to put you in touch with an urgent dental service.
In some circumstances, it may even be worth bypassing NHS 111 and going straight to A&E. For example, if you’ve sustained a serious injury to the face or mouth or are experiencing severe or increasing swelling to your mouth, throat or neck – which is making it difficult to breathe.
Make a complaint
Any concerns about NHS dental care – including a general lack of access – should first be raised with your local Integrated Care Board (ICB). ICBs commission dental services in England and are required to meet the needs of their local population for both urgent and routine dental care.
If you’re not satisfied with their response, you can then take your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). They may be willing to investigate your case in further detail and make recommendations for the NHS to put things right (e.g. provide an explanation, apology etc.).
Unsurprisingly, the number of complaints to the PHSO about NHS dentists has increased by 66%, from 1193 in 2017-2018 to 1982 in 2022-2023. And somewhat encouragingly, the proportion of these complaints being upheld after investigation has also risen by 42% to 78% in the same period. Which is significantly more than the average uphold rate of 60% for all other NHS services.
But please be aware, this complaints process is by no means quick.
The ombudsman is a limited resource, and it can take a very long time for your case to even be reviewed. Currently, the average waiting time for NHS dentistry complaints is 4 months.
Whilst awaiting the outcome of your PHSO investigation, it may also be worth seeking the legal advice of specialist dental negligence solicitors – such as our team, here at Injury Lawyers Direct.
Regular check-ups are required to monitor your oral health. And if you’ve been denied access to an NHS dentist appointment – resulting in the delayed diagnosis and treatment of an oral health issue – legally this is regarded as a type of dental negligence.
Of course, claiming can’t turn back the time. But morally and financially, it can be a massive help.
Tooth decay can be a very painful condition, which may have led to bone damage, tooth loss and the need for tooth extractions. In the most severe cases, it can sometimes also have significant long-term effects, developing into gum disease or potentially either causing or exacerbating existing conditions (such as heart disease and diabetes) – and having a negative impact on all aspects of your life.
Making a dental negligence claim is an effective way to hold the NHS accountable, perhaps gaining an apology and ensuring lessons are learnt – which may help other patients in the future. Any money awarded can also help to put you back in the same financial position as you were beforehand, perhaps restoring any loss of earnings and funding any private dental treatments you require.
Were you one of the 70,000?
If you’re one of the thousands of unfortunate patients who have been unable to access NHS dental care – and have ended up in A&E as a result – why not contact our medical negligence solicitors?
Whether your oral health concern was caused by the NHS dentistry crisis, long wait times, delayed diagnosis or any other form of negligence – providing the act of dental negligence occurred within the last three years – we should be able to help.
Following a quick chat about your case, and the impact it’s had on you and your day-to-day life, we can advise on your eligibility to make a dental negligence claim. And if you wish to go ahead, we’ll take care of the entire process on your behalf – from collating the evidence to negotiating compensation.
An initial consultation is provided completely free of charge, with no obligation to continue with legal action. Plus, all work is completed on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, meaning zero financial risk to yourself.
So where’s the harm in getting in touch?
Dental negligence – particularly a lack of access to NHS dentistry – is a growing concern. If you’ve been affected, it could be worth reviewing your options and seeking the justice you deserve.