It is “utterly appalling” that an English county does not have a single NHS dental place, an MP has said.
Tim Farron, the Lib Dem MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, told the House of Commons on Monday that getting an NHS dentist is impossible in Cumbria.
Farron was speaking after the government unveiled its urgent and emergency care plan to help reduce the serious pressures facing the NHS. It will see tens of thousands of elderly and frail people receiving tailored support at home each month in an attempt to stem the flow of those needing hospital treatment.
But Farron was critical of the plan, saying it offered no solutions for the thousands of people forced to go to A&E because they cannot get regular access to an NHS dentist.
He challenged health secretary Steve Barclay to address the issue, as the country struggles with a cost of living crisis.
In a tweet posted after their exchange, Farron wrote: “More and more NHS practices are going private.
“During a cost of living crisis, it’s utterly appalling that many people and families are being left with no choice but to pay hundreds of pounds a year to see a dentist.”
In the Commons, Farron attacked the urgent and emergency care recovery plan, saying: “There is nothing in this plan to address the fact that there are thousands of people now turning up at A&E as a direct result of the fact they cannot get regular access to an NHS dentist.
“Last week, another Cumbrian dental practice, in Grange-over-Sands, wrote to all of its 5,800 patients to say they had been forced to quit the NHS too.
“There is now not a single NHS dental place anywhere in Cumbria available. So what will he do to fix an NHS dentistry crisis that leaves a family of four having to cough up an extra £1,000 a year during a cost of living crisis to get access to dental care they’ve already paid for through their taxes?”
In response, Barclay said: “Alongside the work that we’re doing on dentistry it is also about access to services, both dentistry and in terms of A&E.
“That comes together in things such as the 111 and how we review that, and also the NHS app.
“It’s looking at the front door how we better manage demand, and that demand for dentistry is not only through NHS dentistry but it also often manifests itself at A&E with a lot of patients coming forward for dentistry at A&E as well.”
A survey published last summer by the BBC and the British Dental Association (BDA) revealed that nine out of 10 NHS dental practices are not accepting new adult patients under the health service.
The BDA said NHS dentistry was at a “tipping point” following years of under-investment, leading patients to drive hundreds of miles for treatment and, in some cases, pull out their own teeth.
Last week, Gill Furniss, the Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, said the government needed to “get a grip” on the NHS dentistry “crisis” after a patient in her constituency was told of a three-year waiting list by 25 dental practices.
Last week, a report by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) said up to 40% of doctors and dentists are likely to quit the profession over “intolerable” pressures.
Watch: Man pulled out his own tooth after struggling to get dental appointment