PEOPLE in urgent need of a dentist were told they could have treatment if they went private, a watchdog boss told health chiefs.
The anecdotal information was shared by Frances McCabe, who chairs Healthwatch Brighton and Hove, and echoed by Labour councillor Clare Moonan.
They spoke out at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee, chaired by Councillor Moonan. She said the claims were too commonplace to dismiss.
They raised their concerns with senior NHS manager Mark Ridgeway, who works for NHS England and NHS Improvement, which commissions dental services in the South East.
He spoke about services and the challenges facing practices during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cllr Moonan said she and other councillors had been contacted by people who were unable to obtain treatment despite being in pain.
When people called the dentist, they were asked if they were an NHS patient before being given a response.
Cllr Moonan said: “There is a perception that a lot of the practices are prioritising private patients and the NHS patients were put at the back of the queue.
“That is a perception but that is the sort of comment that comes to us as councillors.”
She asked whether Mr Ridgeway was aware of the issue and whether an audit could be carried out, as NHS dentists received part of their payments to cover their basic costs.
Mr Ridgeway had heard similar tales but said the NHS had no jurisdiction over private work.
Ms McCabe said the evidence might be anecdotal but they were “recurring anecdotes” about people who needed dental appointments being asked to pay privately.
She said people who felt they had urgent problems were told either they were not a severe case or the resources were not available.
The committee was told capacity had been reduced because dental surgeries were leaving an hour between patients. This was to reduce the level of aerosols in the air generated by procedures, minimise the number of people in waiting rooms and allow staff to change their PPE.
She said: “I can see there is a perverse incentive, almost, to suggest if you’ve got some extra capacity to go with the private patients.”
Ms McCabe said dentistry “comes out tops” when it comes to complaints about NHS services shared with Healthwatch.
She said it was an equalities issue for people who could not afford to pay and commissioners should look at whether people were receiving NHS treatment.
Mr Ridgeway said if NHS dentists did not meet their threshold of offering 60 per cent of their required treatments – reduced because of Covid restrictions – then the money would be clawed back.
He said: “We are constantly reinforcing the messages and we do log the anecdotal complaints we get to build a picture of individual issues we can attempt to address.
“We do work with the practices to make sure they are delivering as they should be.”
Councillor Alistair McNair asked for dentistry to be regular item on the agenda. Cllr Moonan agreed it would be useful and asked Mr Ridgeway to report back to the committee next year.
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