NHS dentistry patients are facing significant delays in receiving treatment, and being told to pay private fees as a solution.
The healthcare watchdog Healthwatch England says it has been contacted by numerous patients about a lack of appointments, with some people being asked to wait up to two years.
Some patients have also been told that they are more likely to get treatment if they pay private fees, with one patient offered a £60 NHS procedure if they paid £1,700 for it.
A Healthwatch England briefing document seen by the Press Association said that “people have been asked to wait for up to two years to see an NHS dentist” and that a lack of appointments is ”the most common issue”.
Another patient was reportedly told that if they paid for private care, the chances of success of the treatment would rise from 60 per cent to 90 per cent.
Dentistry has been among the most difficult sectors to reopen during the Covid pandemic, due to the significant difficulties in adhering to social distancing and aerosols created by many dental procedures which can transfer infectious droplets easily.
Patient safety champion and chairman of Healthwatch England, Sir Robert Francis QC, said: “Our findings show that access to dental care is currently neither equal nor inclusive, leading to traumatic experiences for many people.
“This provides yet more evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the human impact of years of structural issues in NHS dentistry and is now pushing it to crisis point.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the dental sector throughout this unprecedented pandemic so everyone can access affordable, high-quality dental care.
“Since last summer, all practices have been able to open to deliver the full range of face-to-face care with 600 extra urgent dental centres providing extra support.
“We continue to work closely with the NHS to increase access as fast as possible, while protecting staff and patients from Covid-19 infection.”
An NHS spokeswoman said: “It’s right that the NHS has set targets that help patients see their dentist, with many practices already going well beyond the target set. Despite the pandemic, millions of people received dental treatment last year and the NHS has set up over 650 urgent dental hubs so patients can get access to a dentist if they need it.”