Thousands of Britons are left in agony as waiting times for NHS treatment double


Patients needing major dental work in hospital are being left in agony for almost two years, figures show.

Waiting times for dental treatment in leading NHS trusts have doubled over the past year, as coronavirus led to planned surgery being cancelled.

Many suffering with serious tooth problems have not even been seen by specialists, months after being sent to hospitals by their high street dentists.

The lengthy delays have left tens of thousands reliant on painkillers as they wait for appointments to be rescheduled in another stark example of the consequences of the healthcare system switching its focus solely to Covid-19.

It is also feared that people with early symptoms of serious diseases such as mouth cancer may have been missed. 

And the backlog will get worse this winter as planned surgery in hospitals is cancelled again to give priority to Covid sufferers.

Last night Matthew Garrett, of the dental faculty at the Royal College of Surgeons, said: ‘It is inevitable that planned dental surgery will be affected and these operations will be delayed. 

Jessica, 7, left in pain for months 

Jessica Brown had a wobbly baby tooth that began growing out of an extension to her gum in March.

When the seven-year-old’s father John asked her local dental surgery in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, to take a look, he was told they were not seeing anyone unless the patient was ‘bleeding or in agony’.

Mr Brown, 35, then spent weeks ringing other dentists and even the 111 service in an attempt to find someone who would help her.

Seven-year old Jessica Brown had her tooth removed in September after months

He was desperate for a professional to check his daughter as a friend who worked as a dental nurse warned him there was a risk the adult tooth could become infected, with the possibility of long-term problems. 

It was only in September that the tooth was removed after he begged a specialist service. By then Jessica’s gum ‘had thinned so much that the tooth came out in the dentist’s hand’.

Mr Brown accused dentists of overreacting to the pandemic yesterday, saying: ‘It’s disgusting. It was her first real experience of going to a dentist and no one wanted to see her. 

She couldn’t eat cereal, soup or noodles as she didn’t want anything with a spoon. She was eating finger foods for four to five months which she could put through the side of her mouth.’

Where it is safe to do so, we need to try to keep services going. 

Already a considerable backlog has been created, and waiting lists will become insurmountable if we halt again, with disastrous consequences for patients.’

Jessica  had a wobbly baby tooth for months

Jessica  had a wobbly baby tooth for months

Practices were ordered to stop routine treatment on March 25 as the UK went into lockdown and even though they were allowed to reopen on June 8, they can still only see a fraction of their normal patients because of strict infection-control rules.

It is estimated that as many as 14million appointments have been missed across Britain and it will take many more months to clear the backlog of check-ups.

Figures obtained by the Mail under the Freedom of Information Act show for the first time the effect of coronavirus on the ten NHS dental hospitals in England where patients with some of the most serious problems are referred.

Although waiting times have soared, the overall numbers on the waiting lists have not increased because far fewer referrals have been made by high street dentists since the pandemic struck.

At the Eastman Hospital in central London, the average waiting time has almost doubled from 16 weeks last October to 28 at the end of August. 

The longest wait over the same period has soared from 60 weeks to 92 weeks – almost two years – for a patient needing corrective treatment to their teeth in the orthodontics department.

A child has also been waiting 86 weeks to be seen by paediatrics specialists at the hospital, part of the University College London Hospitals trust. 

Overall 10,303 patients are on the waiting list, including 2,186 children, and most are awaiting restorative dentistry or oral surgery.

In total, 7,781 patients have been waiting more than 18 weeks between referral and treatment – a long-standing NHS target for all secondary care. 

A year ago, only 4,162 had been waiting that long.

A UCLH spokesman said: ‘[The trust] took a decision… to transform its services to be able to treat Covid-19 patients as well as the sickest patients in the community.

 This meant that routine dental appointments were temporarily halted.’ But they added that the trust did set up an emergency service that saw almost 2,000 patients during lockdown.

I need part of my jaw removed 

 Julia Hadley first noticed ‘a lot of sensitivity’ in a wisdom tooth in March but the impact of lockdown meant she had to wait until July to see a dentist.

By then her tooth had cracked and fallen out, but X-rays showed infection had moved up into her jawbone, which she was told would need to be partially removed.

The 55-year-old nurse, pictured, was referred to a local dental hospital and told she would be seen in four to five weeks. 

Julia Hadley, 55, needs to have part of her jaw removed and is unable to book an appointment

Julia Hadley, 55, needs to have part of her jaw removed and is unable to book an appointment

But 12 weeks later she has not had an appointment, leaving her in pain and worrying for her long-term health.

Mrs Hadley, from Hagley in Worcestershire, said: ‘It’s been three months now and I’ve heard nothing so far, absolutely nothing. 

I am really worried about going back into lockdown. If they start cancelling to make way for Covid cases I worry I will just go on the back-burner again.’

 

At the Royal London Dental Hospital, the average wait has almost tripled from 13 weeks to 33. The longest wait has soared from 51 weeks to 83.

Waiting times have almost tripled at Liverpool University Dental Hospital. 

The average wait in October 2019 was 12 weeks but now stands at 35, while the longest wait has increased from 48 to 56 weeks. 

Julia had an erupted wisdom tooth in March

Julia had an erupted wisdom tooth in March

And the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks between referral and treatment has doubled from 1,010 to 2,167.

At Birmingham Dental Hospital, average waiting times have tripled from nine weeks last October to 27 weeks at the end of September. 

The longest wait is now 61 weeks, up from 47 a year ago. A massive 6,441 have been waiting more than 18 weeks between referral and treatment, up from 636 last October.

One young woman, who did not want to be named, told how she had been waiting since November last year for surgery on her wisdom teeth and had a date set for March only to see it cancelled by a hospital with just two days to go. 

 She said she ‘felt ignored’ and that ‘it was horrible to suffer and wait for months to be tossed aside in favour of people who have only been ill for a few days’.

Eddie Crouch, of the British Dental Association, said some patients waiting for hospital treatment will end up simply having their teeth removed because they will have deteriorated over the past year.

And he suggested that some patients showing symptoms of oral cancer – which has a low survival rate if detected late – may have been missed because they were unable to see their regular dentists during lockdown.

NHS England said: ‘[We] opened over 500 urgent dental centres to ensure all who needed emergency care during the pandemic got it and now routine treatment has resumed, anyone with concerns should get in touch with their local dentist, as they usually would for further advice.’ 

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