Hancock must act, as agonising year-long waiting times for tooth extractions set to lengthen
15 September 2020
The British Dental Association has joined with sector leaders and learning disability charity Mencap to press Matt Hancock to set out an action plan to ease the backlog on tooth extractions in hospitals, warning many young and vulnerable patients across England are now expected to see waiting times of up to a year lengthen significantly.
Extractions, performed under general anaesthetic on children and adults some with a complex mix of medical conditions, including autism and learning difficulties, are the responsibility of community dental services and hospital dental services. Frontline intelligence gathered by the BDA across the English regions suggest many services have yet to resume treatment since the start of lockdown, and where they have the capacity has often halved to meet social distancing and additional infection control procedures.
Tooth decay has been immovable as the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children, with recent analysis by the Local Government Association indicating 180 procedures took place every working day in England in 2018/19 on patients aged under 18.
Extractions formed part of the many elective procedures that were postponed among 50,000 children from March to May. High demand and underinvestment had seen waiting times hit over a year prior to the pandemic, a figure which is now expected to surge. Official targets for delivering treatment vary by area from 4 to 18 weeks, owing to different approaches to commissioning services.
In an open letter to the Health Secretary the group has called for an urgent action plan, and to publish an internal Public Health England review into the true scale of extractions under general anaesthetic, which is thought to be significantly understated in official statistics.
Charlotte Waite, Chair of the BDA's England Community Dental Services Committee said:
“The hundreds of extractions that took place every day in our hospitals ended with the start of lockdown, but demand hasn’t gone anywhere.
“Increasingly stretched services are now struggling to meet the backlog, while tens of thousands of vulnerable adults and young children wait in pain.
“The government has a responsibility to act for patients, many of whom who were already facing a year of toothache and the impact this has on their general wellbeing.
“We need a plan, and full disclosure on the true scale of a problem that is already a national scandal.”