Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales West, Sioned Williams, has demanded that the Welsh Government tackles failures in the provision of NHS dental care following the publication of figures showing that 83 fewer dentists were offering treatment on the NHS last year compared to 2020, and 117 fewer than in 2019.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions yesterday, Sioned Williams urged the Government to address what she has described as “crisis” and “scandal”.
Sioned Williams asked during First Minister’s Questions:
“The health board with the highest percentage reduction in NHS dentists was Swansea Bay University Health Board which serves residents in my region, with 22% fewer dentists in 2021 compared to the previous year.
“Hundreds of people who have been affected by this crisis have contacted me – with one Gorseinon mother saying, ‘I have a 3 year old who is yet to have his first ever visit to a dentist. Every time I’ve called they’ve said that they’re only able to see emergencies.’ Other patients report of having received better treatment in the private sector, and some NHS patients even being told they’ll be seen if they pay.
“With regular dental care being vital in preventing oral health problems from occurring in the first place, what is the Government doing to address the scandal that patients, especially children, are having to face significant delays, or are in many cases being turned away entirely?”
Sioned Williams later added:
“In his response to my question, the First Minister pointed to the effects of a recent boundary restructuring of Swansea Bay University Health Board in explaining the drop in dentists and the effect of Covid on services. However, this does not explain the experiences shared with me by hundreds of constituents, who have outlined their worsening and unacceptable treatment within the NHS dental care sector.
“I had previously written to the Health Minister to demand that the Welsh Government takes swift action to ensure residents in the Swansea Bay University Health Board area are able to access NHS dental services.
“The Health Minister admitted in her reply to my letter on this matter that ‘there will be delays for new patients seeking regular care.’ But constituents, who are registered patients, are telling me that they are being turned away if they don’t need emergency treatment.
“We need to be listening to patients’ direct experiences. Not only this, but we also need to listen to those working within the profession itself who have referred to working conditions as the main reason why dentists are quitting the NHS in droves; the British Dental Association believes that unhappiness with the NHS dental contract is a key factor in explaining this crisis, with what it has described as ‘exhausted’ and ‘demoralised’ dentists having to reach ‘impossible targets’. This is a dire situation and a scandal. The Welsh Government must address these issues, take urgent measures to reverse the crisis and ensure that everyone has equal access to NHS dental care.”