Darlington’s dental crisis continues to impact thousands of people, as patients struggle to book appointments for urgent and routine treatments. 

NHS bosses have warned the dental sector is still struggling after years of turmoil enforced by the Covid pandemic. Practices are still responding to the backlog from Covid while treating newer cases. 

In an update to councillors in Darlington, Pauline Fletcher of NHS England, said: “Covid had a massive impact and continues to have an impact. We have some significant workforce and retention issues. 

“We acknowledge that we have access issues, particularly in relation to routine dentistry which includes checkups. The issue to try and resolve access is very complex and that is something being worked on at the moment to try and improve things.”

There are only 12 NHS dental practices in Darlington after Burgess + Hyder, which served hundreds of residents in Firthmoor, closed earlier this year. 

And despite closing in March, health bosses have been unable to relocate all patients to new practices.

Councillors heard how staff recruitment and retention issues have caused practices to close their books, meaning hundreds of residents cannot get treatment.  Some residents have been forced to seek out private treatment - but that comes at a cost. 

Ms Fletcher said other contracts throughout the North East have been handed back recently and finding new providers isn’t easy. 

She added: “We have had the Firthmoor contract handed back, and while we haven't managed to recommission that, we have been able to recommission some of the users.

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“I haven’t got any time scales at the moment. I appreciate there has been a delay but we are working hard.”

A £3.8 million funding boost in the summer has already gone some way to increasing capacity in dental clinical assessment services to prioritise urgent care patients. 

Out of hours care providers have also been tasked with taking on extra patients where possible to help with the capacity issues. The meeting also heard how rural communities aren’t as attractive to the workforce, while Brexit and Covid also affected recruitment and retention.