Members of Barnsley Council’s overview and scrutiny committee met to raise their concerns over the borough being identified as one of the worst-hit places in the country for dental provision.
The amount of dentists available to see patients has dropped by 21 per cent since the pandemic struck in March 2020, when practices stopped all non-urgent treatment, leading to a growing backlog.
According to the British Dental Association (BDA), unhappiness with NHS contracts - relating to both the length and cost - were key factors as to why issues have been encountered.
However, local studies have revealed Brexit is also to blame, with dentists from Spain and Portugal being lost - something that could have knock-on impacts for the ‘next decade’.
Overview and scrutiny chair, Coun Jeff Ennis, expressed his concerns by writing to Barnsley MPs Dan Jarvis, Stephanie Peacock, John Healey and Miriam Cates, urging them to raise the matter on the national stage.
He said: “At a recent session of the overview and scrutiny committee in Barnsley, where the committee looked at dentistry in the town, members were concerned.
“Legacy arrangements mean that there is inconsistent, and often inequitable, access to dental services.
“This is both in terms of capacity of primary care and of complex and inconsistent pathways to urgent dental care, community dental services and secondary care.
“The Primary Care National Contract, rolled out in 2006, is held in perpetuity with little flexibility for either the commissioner or the provider.
“Existing procurement rules introduce further challenges when trying to change commissioning arrangements and it is not possible to introduce innovative ways of working without testing the market.
“Additional financial provision is not made for areas affected by population growth resulting in pressures in areas with high levels of development.
“Members of the committee are of the opinion that the delivery model for dental contracts needs to be reviewed and would like to request that one of the elected MPs for Barnsley considers raising the issues in Parliament, with a particular focus on the lifetime of dental contracts and financial provision linked to population growth.”
A study 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 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 report added: “Barnsley has no stand-alone, urgent dental care centre but patients can access care via a call centre and will be offered emergency care close to their address - although it seems that in practice patients are usually asked to travel to Sheffield.
“Each practice should act as an urgent dental care centre and should see patients regardless of their home address.
“Barnsley dentists have all worked extremely hard to continue to provide services.
“A separate ‘hub’ would require staffing with additional dentists and this would be difficult to do, given local and national recruitment difficulties.
“It is unclear why this is, although dentists from abroad have been lost due to Brexit - particularly from Spain and Portugal - and it will be a problem for the next five to ten years.
“Training numbers remain fairly stable, but it is a very long process to recruit dentists from overseas.”