Eddie Crouch Defends Profession As Complaints Rise 66%

Eddie Crouch Defends Profession As Complaints Rise 66%

There’s been a two-thirds increase in the number of complaints about dentistry made to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).  Figures released by England’s Health Ombudsman confirm a 66% increase in the number of complaints received, up from 1,193 in 2017/18 to 1,982 in 2022/23. 

The Ombudsman receives around 100 dental related calls a week.  Removal from practice lists of ’registered’ NHS patients, the lack of NHS dentists and poor treatment typify the nature of complaint lodged.

Within hours of publication, the report was seized on by LBC’s Iain Dale (30th October) who probed its findings with Eddie Crouch, Chair of the British Dental Association.

Confronted with grim reports of patients being left in excruciating pain or facing bills they can’t afford Mr Crouch conceded "It’s always disappointing when patients have to complain or something goes wrong with their treatment and they have to end up going to the Ombudsman to get some resolution". 

But Mr Crouch stood firm in his defence of the profession.  He conceded that the rise was worrying, however, as a percentage of the number of dental appointments sat each year the figures were small and  Mr Crouch expressed surprise that "given the crisis NHS dentistry was in", they were not much higher.

The Government was dragging its feet as dentists continued to leave the NHS and, having heard evidence from all quarters earlier in the year, there was still no reform to the failed contract.

In a wide ranging analysis of the state of NHS dentistry, Mr Crouch again defaulted to the failed "not fit for purpose" contract and pleaded that "Money is allocated to a dental practice appropriately to the type of patients that we treat...sadly those patients who require an awful lot of the treatment are the ones that are costing NHS dental practices to treat".

The Parliamentary Ombudsman is the last port of call for complainants. Most complaints commence in practice and then, if not resolved, can climb a tree whose various branches include Healthwatch, NHS England and the CQC.  Some pursue a dento-legal route. Only when complainants have exhausted all relevant routes do they have the final option to bring the matter to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.  

78% of dental complaints brought to the Ombudsman were upheld or partly upheld after investigation - a rise from 42% to 78% across the same time span. The average uphold rate for all other NHS services is 60%.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens, in comments that reinforced those of the BDA said “Poor dental care leaves patients frustrated, in pain and out of pocket. They, and dental professionals, deserve a better system that leads to quality care.

Many of us will have read recent headlines of people removing their own teeth and seen images of people queuing outside practices for an NHS dentist. This shows in access problems, such as appointment availability and lack of treatment being a common issue in complaints brought to us.”

Mr Behrens acknowledged dentistry’s difficulties. “Like many other areas of the NHS, dentistry is suffering from low morale, underfunding, and a recruitment and retention problem.  More needs to be done to tackle the serious issues in dentistry. Patients must be able to access quality care and be clear about what is and is not available to them on the NHS".

And he added “Dental professionals need to feel supported and that leaders in the NHS and Government understand the problems they are facing and are working towards a meaningful solution.”

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