Jeremy Hunt’s Health Committee calls for urgent action to deal with backlog of NHS appointments

Jeremy Hunt’s Health Committee calls for urgent action to deal with backlog of NHS appointments

The Commons Health and Social Care Committee is calling for urgent action to assess and tackle a backlog of appointments and an unknown patient demand for all health services, including dentistry. They said a compelling case had been made for the nationwide routine testing of all NHS staff and they are yet to understand why it cannot be introduced.

The Committee found that dental services in England had been severely disrupted by the pandemic, practices having been shut down on 25 March 2020. Although the restoration of dental practices in England began from 8 June 2020, concerns have been raised about the backlog of appointments for routine dental care which has, in part, been worsened by financial difficulties some dental practices have faced during the pandemic.

The Association of Dentists Groups (ADG) reported that patients have been remotely prescribed with antibiotics for their dental problems but have returned with pain or further swelling as the cause of their dental problem has not been properly addressed. The ADG has described this as contributing to an “overhang of oral healthcare”. The British Dental Association (BDA) has also said that the limited availability of dental services during the start of the pandemic has led to “a very substantial burden of untreated dental disease and an overall worsening of the nation’s oral health as the UK emerges from the peak of the pandemic”.

The Committee had also heard that some dental practices have incurred significant financial costs during the pandemic and have subsequently struggled to re-open. This is because practices are unable to conduct the level of service that they had been able to provide prior to the pandemic but are still incurring substantial overhead costs and other expenses. The BDA have described this as a “dire situation” with private dental practices, in particular, being “left with little or no income in this period, while a range of fixed business costs remain in place.” Mick Armstrong warned them that the effect of the pandemic on general practice, NHS and private, “has been devastating and is probably existential”.

 Mick Armstrong told them: “Where [dental practices] may have seen 15 patients a day, they will now see five. The only thing I can say is that they have the ability to pass on those increased costs to patients. Whether that makes dentistry unaffordable is an entirely separate matter.

On 14 May 2020, Nigel Edwards (Chief Executive, Nuffield Trust) highlighted his concerns relating to the attention on and support for dentistry services during the pandemic: [Dentistry] has not received a lot of attention, but it is a real problem because virtually everything that is done in dentistry generates an infection risk, and we have not given dentists a good answer about how on earth they will run their businesses in a safe way in the future.

We are going to have a very major problem of long-term dental morbidity as a consequence unless we can find an answer to that. There is a limit to what hospitals can do on that, but at the moment we are unclear about how to safely run a general dental practice.

In oral evidence to the Committee on 30 June 2020, Amanda Pritchard (Chief Operating Officer, NHSE/I) reiterated their commitment to support dental practices and staff in England. Ms Pritchard said: “Dentistry is a hugely important service. We are very much aware that the whole of the dental sector has, as has the rest of the NHS, stepped up through the COVID-19 crisis despite considerable pressures on their services. Our particular responsibility is to NHS dental practitioners.”

Ms Pritchard also acknowledged the financial challenges facing dental practices and outlined the support that NHSE/I is offering: “What we have done is maintain a roll-over contract model from last year, so that there is stability and a reliable source of income that is separated from the amount of activity that is being done at the moment.”

The report is available at:

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmhealth/320/32006.htm#_idTextAnchor013

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