Dental shake-up under fire

By Tony Earnshaw
Local Democracy Reporter


HEALTH chiefs have been accused of failing to adequately inform the public over a shake-up of routine dental services.

The criticism comes just days after the roll-out of a new system geared towards tackling the rising demand for access to emergency NHS dental services.

It follows on from the creation of access pilot schemes in Bradford and North Kirklees in which participating dental practices were required to keep free an agreed number of one-hour slots in which to see new patients.

Between early January, 2017 and March 31, 2017, 25 practices (eight in North Kirklees) took part with 4,260 appointments made available for new patients. But some appointments went unfilled, with activity in North Kirklees at 66.95 per cent during the first month of the pilot. A report by the Dental Commissioning Team described the situation as “very frustrating for all involved”.

Huddersfield-based healthcare provider Local Care Direct stopped running the urgent dental care service – accessed via the NHS 111 number – on April 1.

The contract is now with Birmingham-based Night Dental Ltd. The change means patients in Wakefield travelling to Huddersfield or Leeds for emergency treatment.

Announcing the new call handling service at County Hall in Wakefield, Emma Wilson, NHS England’s head of co-commissioning for West Yorkshire, said the first week of the new system had gone “surprisingly well” but that challenges remained.

She said 50 per cent of calls were managed by clinicians.

She added that NHS England was also “building capacity” in primary care dentistry so that patients can have a regular dentist.

But she acknowledged that some areas – such as Bradford – were “more tricky” than others in terms of patients not attending appointments.

The national expectation is that patients travel for not more than an hour to access dental care, she said.

Coun Liz Smaje (Con, Birstall & Birkenshaw) asked what barriers prevented people turning up for appointments.

She suggested that the lack of a fixed site in North Kirklees, the one-hour travel time to a dentist outside the area and NHS England’s failure to effectively communicate its scheme to the public, combined to undermine the system and create missed appointments.

“If you have no definite fixed site (in North Kirklees) you have created a barrier.

“Why haven’t you got one where there are particular problems? The need must be there.”

There was a further attack from Coun Elizabeth Rhodes (Lab, Wakefield North), who said she was “totally disappointed and angry” that the urgent care system had been introduced “with no consideration of consultation”.

She said it had been poorly advertised and that the people it targeted could be unaware that it existed.

“These changes have occurred three weeks before Wakefield was going to be told its patients could go to Leeds or Huddersfield at a time when Leeds has already lost two of its outlets. 

“It’s not good enough. 

“I have to wonder what else is going on in terms of centralisation and trying to avoid the issue of dealing with districts.”

The chairman of the West Yorkshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Coun Helen Hayden (Lab, Temple Newsam), rejected previous assurances that the refocus of access to dentistry “was not a reconfiguration”.

“To me, this is a service reconfiguration,” she said.

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