UNIONS have warned NHS dentistry is ‘hanging by a thread’ - after Barnsley was revealed to be one of the worst-hit places in the country having lost more than a fifth of its dentists in a 12-month period.
According to the Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) figures - which is responsible for healthcare services in the town - there are now 131 registered NHS dentists.
The amount available to see patients has dropped by 21 per cent since 2020, when 165 were working at practices, putting Barnsley as the third-worst in the country behind Bolton and Portsmouth.
According to the British Dental Association (BDA), unhappiness with NHS contracts was a key factor - and one practice in Barnsley has had two posts vacant for two years without attracting a single applicant, their investigation revealed.
Shawn Charlwood, from the BDA, warned significant numbers of dentists were planning on leaving the NHS.
“NHS dentistry is hanging by a thread,” he said.
“It’s a really serious situation and every dentist that is lost or every vacancy for NHS dentistry that remains unfilled affects thousands of patients in terms of care and their ability to access care.
“Every practice struggling to fill vacancies - like the one in Barnsley - translates into thousands of patients unable to access care.
“Years of failed contracts and underfunding have meant a growing number of dentists no longer see the NHS as a place to build a career.
“The pandemic has upped the ante, and we are now facing down an exodus.”
NHS leaders and dentistry professionals were recently grilled by Barnsley councillors, after a report into local surgeries revealed 29 per cent of residents have waited six months for an appointment, with some experiencing two-year waits.
Bosses from Healthwatch Barnsley - which looks into how local dentists and GPs are performing - contacted 28 dental surgeries and found only two could offer an appointment in six to eight weeks’ time.
Sixteen venues said they were not taking on new patients due to enormous backlogs.
A spokesperson from the Lundwood-based service added: “There are concerns that dental practices will no longer be attracted to the outdated NHS contracting model.
“Our fear going forward is that all the previous good work which has been done around oral hygiene will fall by the wayside as residents are not able to get routine NHS dental care.
“Even before Covid, we lacked an NHS dental service capable of meeting patients’ needs.
“However, from March 2020 there was a sharp increase in the number of residents contacting us as dentists closed their doors during the first wave of the pandemic.
“Over 70 per cent of the calls we have received on dental services have been regarding residents being unable to access routine dental appointments, either because they are not registered with a dentist or their dentist is only covering emergency treatment.
“Dentistry is a cradle-to-grave service - ‘do more with less’ cannot be the mantra underpinning any new model for services.”