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Healthwatch organisations collaborate to highlight importance of NHS dentistry

The South West London LDC and South West London Healthwatch organisations are collaborating to share the patient perspective on dentistry and to elevate concerns expressed in South West London to the national level. In collaborating, we will jointly identify policy solutions that can improve patient experience and health outcomes as well as leverage our networks with key decision-makers to progress implementation of these recommendations.

Who are South West London Healthwatch organisations?

There are 152 local Healthwatch organisations across England. Each of these organisations work with their local population to understand their experience of health and social care; to provide support to help people find the services that they need; and to act as a ‘critical friend’ to local and system-level providers and decisionmakers to ensure that the patient and public voice informs the design, implementation, and evaluation of health and care services.

Importantly, local and system-level providers have a statutory obligation to respond to Healthwatch’s feedback and questions.

Six independent Healthwatch organisations (Healthwatch Croydon, Healthwatch Kingston upon Thames, Healthwatch Merton, Healthwatch Richmond upon Thames, Healthwatch Sutton, and Healthwatch Wandsworth) are located within the borders of the South West London Integrated Care System. These organisations are collaborating to identify areas of public concern that cut across their local populations and for which service-design and delivery decisions are made at the ICS level.

Areas where the NHS is already providing support

The NHS provides support to help people to access dental services, including free services for those under 18 (or under 19 in full-time education); those who are pregnant or who have had a baby in the past 12 months; people being treated in an NHS hospital with treatment carried out by a hospital dentist (with some exceptions); and those receiving low income benefits and their dependents under 20 years old. In addition, the NHS recently updated its find a dentist website to make it easier to identify practices locally who are accepting patients for NHS services, both for adult or paediatric care.

What needs improvement

Despite these initiatives to improve accessibility and affordability, the South West London LDC and Healthwatch recognise areas for improvement. Whilst some patients are satisfied with the services available, all six Healthwatch organisations have heard from their local populations about struggles to access an NHS dentist and the high costs associated with both NHS and private care. The consequences of the massive unmet need in South West London have been devastating; Healthwatch organisations have learned, for example, about patients living in pain for months before accessing care, people removing their own teeth, and people not being able to afford crowns after their teeth have been removed, with concerns about their dignity and wellbeing. People are also struggling to access primary care dentistry, increasing risk of acute dental disease and associated high treatment costs. Moreover, in conversations with local dentistry leaders, South West London Healthwatch organisations have heard that many dentists may be forced to give up their NHS contracts as a result of unrealistic contractual obligations; unless contractual reform is implemented, this will compound the current dentistry affordability and access crisis.

Your voice matters

Southwest London Healthwatch organisations have created a form where people can provide their questions, concerns, and feedback about dentistry services in South West London, with the aim of working collaboratively with South West London LDC and others to address the issues that are raised in this listening exercise.

Southwest London Healthwatch organisation reports about dentistry are available below:

Healthwatch Croydon

Healthwatch Kingston

Healthwatch Richmond

Healthwatch Sutton