PATIENTS who cannot afford to pay for private dentists have been priced out of dental care due to substandard NHS provision, councillors have said.
Concerns have been raised by Hampshire County Council members about the number of people left waiting for NHS dental care – many of whom are unable to pay a private dentist.
Since 2019 practices in Portsmouth, Alton and Tadley have closed, and NHS England has admitted that patients in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are “unable to access routine care”.
The NHS said dentists are prioritising those in urgent need of treatment.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, staff levels have also decreased and NHS England has admitted to recruitment struggles.
At a health and social care select committee meeting, councillors on all sides were fiercely critical of the current model.
Liberal Democrat spokesman for health and social care, Cllr David Harrison, said: “I used to see a dentist regularly and now find that they’re no longer there – it’s like I’m in a holding hangar until another dentist is recruited.
“In terms of social equality I’m particularly concerned – if you’re wealthy and can afford private dental practices then you’re in a much better position than everyone else, who relies on the NHS.
“If you’re wholly reliant on the NHS you have a less favourable position than those who can afford to pay.”
Cllr Andy Tree, from the Whitehill and Bordon Community Party, added: “I fell off the NHS waiting list, tried to get back on, and failed.
“I’m still waiting nine months later.
“This is a clear issue – those who can afford to go private will get dental care, and those who can’t will not.”
Alison Cross from NHS England, who appeared at the meeting via video link, said: “We had a huge backlog because of the way dentistry was closed down during the first lockdown, so that impacted provision.
“We are working with the dentists as much as we can – they’re currently at 65 per cent capacity and this means we’re not anywhere near full capacity.
“However they still have the ability to see urgent cases and people who are clinically necessary to be seen, such as children and people who need operations.
“Our dentists are feeling very low. They are struggling, despite working very hard to see as many patients as they can.”