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Dentists: 4am queues for NHS care risk becoming the new normal

The British Dental Association has urged government to step up as Leigh, Greater Manchester, joined the growing list of locations where struggling patients have queued from the break of dawn to secure access to NHS dentistry.

Daily queues starting as early as 4am have been reported outside the Avenue Dental Centre in Leigh town centre, which offers appointments to all NHS patients on a first-come-first-serve basis.

This follows reports from Faversham, Kent last month, where a practice received 27,000 calls for just 60 NHS slots, and in Kings Lynn which in May saw queues of more than 300 form from 4am.

Wannabe patient Leah Price, who requires regular dental treatment as a result of Chron's Disease, photographed the scenes. Leah told local media: “the people working in the NHS are trying their hardest.

"But in this country, people should not be camping outside a dentist at 4am on camp chairs just to get on the NHS patient list, it’s wrong.

"Dental treatment is just as important at the end of the day as other health issues and I’m just in disbelief that this is where we are at.

"I wasn’t expecting to be added to waiting lists that are two years long and to be within a chance of being seen, I need to camp outside.

"I also have a child that I have to take to school, so waiting outside for hours isn’t an option for me, it’s a mess."

A recent Health and Social Care Committee inquiry described the state of the service as ‘totally unacceptable in the 21st century’, setting out fundamental changes centred on reform of the dysfunctional NHS contract dentists work to. The BDA has urged the government to sign up to this reform plan, which it has characterised as an ‘instruction manual’ to save NHS dentistry. A recovery plan for the service - pledged by government in April - has yet to be published.

Dentist leaders warned that without fundamental reform the exodus of dentists from the NHS will grow, and the service will not have a future.

Analysis undertaken by the BDA of recent government data indicates unmet need for dentistry in 2023 stands at over 12 million people, up a million on 2022 figures, and now well over one in four of England's adult population. Over six million adults tried and failed to get an appointment in the past two years, and 4.4 million simply did not try because they thought they could not secure one. Those put off by cost are now equivalent to over 1.1 million adults, those on waiting lists estimated at around 600,000.

Figures are now nearly three times pre-pandemic totals. In 2019 unmet need sat at over 4 million people, or nearly one in ten adults.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“These scenes have no place in a wealthy 21st century nation, but risk becoming the new normal for millions of patients.

“The Conservative Party will gather in Greater Manchester in little under a month. Ministers need to come armed with solutions to this crisis or NHS dentistry won’t have a future.”