A catalogue of “horror stories” which show people in pain and despair as they could not find NHS dental treatment has prompted calls for help and action.

The shocking litany of reports detailed on social media has been raised in a Darlington Borough Council meeting.

Councillor Nick Wallis said they had been “inundated” with comments, some of which he described as “heart-rending”.

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He said later: “It’s an intolerable situation. Genuinely I was shocked to see the scale of the problem.

“It’s crucial that we begin to understand how this can be turned around.”

The Northern Echo: Cllr Nick Wallis Picture: Stuart Boulton Cllr Nick Wallis Picture: Stuart Boulton

He posted a request to hear people’s experiences on social media after reading worrying reports about dentistry services. He received more than 100 responses.

“My jaw dropped, if you’ll pardon the pun,” said Cllr Wallis.

“There were so many personal experiences of real hardship, pain, suffering and just despair.

“There’s simply a brick wall up for many families and individuals when it comes to NHS dental treatment.

“I used to hear these stories from my grandparents. These are stories that we all thought from 1948 onwards, the foundation of the NHS, were the horror stories of the past.

“It’s a first world country, one of the biggest economies in the world and we’re in the middle of it now.

“Comment after comment of people’s real life experience is that it’s incredibly difficult to get on a waiting list, never mind actually see a dentist.

“Some of them, people told us, have 400 or 500 names on before them. Some practices are not accepting NHS admissions.

“Sometimes people have driven out to Chester-le-Street, Newton Aycliffe, quite a fair distance, to try to find an NHS dentist, which isn’t possible for everyone.

“Waiting for an exceptionally long time for a check-up. Also when they require treatment, not being able to get treatment.

“That means people walking around with broken teeth, fillings that can’t be repaired because there’s no NHS provision.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Chris McEwan Picture: Stuart BoultonCllr Chris McEwan Picture: Stuart Boulton

“It’s a really important part of public health provision.

“Dentistry is another part of the NHS yet for some reason we find ourselves in a situation where people are either having to go untreated or go private, which particularly at the moment with the cost of living crisis, most people cannot afford to do.

“While some people have contacted me from elsewhere in the country, it does seem to be particularly acute in Darlington.

“I’m particularly concerned about children.

“If dental treatment and examinations aren’t up to date and aren’t taken forward pro-actively at that age, it can lead to lifelong oral health problems.

“Children will be left scarred or left with legacy problems for the rest of their lives.

“When people are able to access an NHS dentist, they are very positive about the treatment and the service they received.”

He said he was spurred to make the social media post after seeing two Healthwatch reports.

Now he says he understands the council’s health scrutiny committee is investigating the problem.

Cllr Chris McEwan said: “This has been bubbling for about five years, if not longer. There’s always been a challenge getting an NHS dentist.

“As a consequence of Covid I think the situation’s got much worse in terms of limiting capacity.”

Cllr McEwan, who was involved in commissioning dentistry in his work with the NHS several years ago, said of the Facebook post: “What became very clear was hard evidence, the anecdotal stuff we were hearing of people really, really struggling, suffering and in pain.

“It’s not just the acute stuff that’s a worry to me.

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“What I’m personally worried about is the preventative aspects, particularly with children, in the medium to long term.

The Northern Echo: It's becoming increasingly difficult to find an NHS dentist taking on new patients Picture: Sarah CaldecottIt's becoming increasingly difficult to find an NHS dentist taking on new patients Picture: Sarah Caldecott

“If you’re not getting check-ups and accessing a dentist as a child, it could have implications for you and your long-term health.

“So what we’re trying to do following that post is going to the authorities to say, what practical steps, what advice can you give to us as local councillors to those residents who are asking about this?

“We have a responsibility to constructively press our partner agencies like NHS England to say, what are you doing to solve it and when will we start to see improvements?”


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