Whitstable Views: NHS dental care a national disgrace
I was sitting in my room watching telly when I heard this repetitive howl and a series of thumps from downstairs. I was too tired to go down and find out what all the noise was about. Later I heard the front door slam.
When I got up in the morning I heard what had happened.
It turned out that my landlady’s son had the toothache. He was banging his head against the wall to ease the pain. After that my landlady took him to the emergency dental hospital.
I have every sympathy. I’ve had toothache in the past. There really isn’t a worse pain.
He has an abscess under his tooth. The tooth is rotten and needs to be removed. He was given antibiotics but - what surprised me - no pain killers. Nor was the offending tooth removed. He was told to go and see his own dentist.
The thing is, he has no dentist. Nor do I. Nor does his mum. Nor do hundreds of thousands of people in Britain today.
Isn’t this shocking: that people are going without proper dental care because they cannot afford to pay the bills? That people like my landlady’s son are suffering real pain because of this.
According to recent research, Britain has less than four dentists for every 10,000 people, as compared to five per 10,000 in Austria, Italy and Poland and six per 10,000 in the United States. Only 49% of adults and 63% of children are registered with NHS dentists.
Britain now has the worst cared-for teeth in Europe.
New NHS contracts have not helped. The number of dentists working on NHS patients fell by 1,649 in the first three months after the contracts were introduced, down by eight per cent, according to official NHS statistics.
On the NHS website, however, the new contracts are presented as an advantage to patients. As it says: “These changes are benefiting patients by commissioning better access to local services and a new, simpler charging system.”
This is a joke. Go on the website and type in your postcode on the page where it says you can find your local dental services, and you will see the following message displayed by almost every dentist:
· NOT Currently Accepting New Fee Paying NHS Patients
· NOT Accepting New Charge Exempt Adults for NHS Treatment
· NOT Accepting New Children Aged 0-18 years for NHS Treatment
· DOES NOT Provide Urgent Dental Access Slots
Even the Health Centre on Harbour Street in Whitstable shows this message. Surely that Health Centre was built using NHS funds? So how come you can’t get NHS dental care there?
It is a measure of Britain in the opening years of the 21st century - the fourth wealthiest nation in the world - that we seemingly cannot afford to have our teeth properly cared for anymore, and that we have allowed our dentists, most of whom were trained using public funds, to jump ship in this way.
It’s a national disgrace.
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Such is the state of the NHS today, more concerned with money than with health.
I want to use this opportunity to say goodbye to my friend Sandie Back, who died recently after a long struggle with cancer.
You may have seen Alan Davies, the comedian, on QI with Stephen Fry, quoting from a song about Peter Cushing, who spent the last years of his life in Whitstable