Over the last year, a growing number of constituents have contacted me to tell me that they are unable to access local NHS dental services.
With access to healthcare services across North Wales already a major issue, I arranged to meet with representatives of the North Wales Dental Service (NWDS) and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) to highlight these concerns. I am therefore writing to update you on the outcomes of this meeting which I hope will be of interest.
Following the meeting, I am confident that the NWDS and BCUHB are aware of the serious problems encountered by people in Wrexham and are working hard to resolve them.
For information, the NWDS and BCUHB are currently exploring an out-of-hours pilot system whereby the NHS 111 service will facilitate access to emergency dental care.
The NWDS is currently finding it difficult to attract dentists to come and work in North Wales. This is something felt all too keenly by Wrexham residents, who find it virtually impossible to find a practice willing to take them. In fact, a recent investigation by the British Dental Association revealed that 93% of dental practices in Wales are not taking on new Welsh NHS adult patients. Welsh Labour Government reforms have also caused challenges, with some practices – including Ruabon – leaving the NHS altogether.
As I have mentioned previously, this has left many residents with no choice but to travel across the border to England to access dental services. Whilst there is no restriction that prohibits a person living in Wales from registering with an English dentist, this is not something that residents living in Wales should be expected to do in order to access services. I have been informed that various schemes are being explored to attract foreign dentists and graduates from dental schools in Cardiff and the North West to come and work locally.
The Welsh Labour Government’s Minister for Health and Social Services also previously stated that residents wanting to join an NHS dental waiting list should contact BCUHB for a list of all local practices accepting new NHS patients. However, after checking with BCUHB officials, they confirmed that no such ‘live’ list or database exists. Therefore, the only reliable way is to contact the practices directly. They need to come up with a better system – urgently.
It was confirmed that if you have been on an NHS waiting list for more than two years and require a dental check-up, you can request a ‘non-urgent access session’ with your dental practice. A good dental provider should undertake a check-up. Likewise, if you are on an NHS waiting list and require urgent treatment, your dental practice should accept you to treat the urgent issue only and reassess your position on the NHS waiting list accordingly. For advice, please contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) on 03000 851234 or you can email them on BCU.PALS@wales.nhs.uk.
Lastly, following concerns raised by a number of constituents, I highlighted the issue of pregnant women not getting the dental treatment they need. At the moment, pregnant women only receive a free appointment on the NHS without any additional treatment. This is not good enough. NWDS are also now aware of cases I have heard whereby some children in Wrexham – some up to 4 years-old – have grown up without ever seeing a dentist and may not have been taught correct dental hygiene or how to brush their teeth. NWDS are acutely aware of this problem and are trying to establish oral health promotion sessions and explore ways to acclimatise children to the dental environment. This is a concern which I will continue to raise.