Almost five million calls made to NHS dental helpline

Almost five million calls made to NHS dental helpline

Labour Party data shows that more than 4.7 million people have called the NHS 111 helpline for issues relating to dental health since 2019.

More than one million calls were made in 2020/21 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The average number of calls per day then rose to 3,327 in 2023/24 from 2,024 in 2020/21. Many of the callers’ symptoms are classified as ‘urgent’ by the NHS, such as severe dental pain.

Of the total calls, 4,042,980 related to toothache without dental injury. A further 314,279 were due to problems with fillings, crowns and appliances. A significant number were also due to dental bleeding (77,738) and dental injury (66,868).

‘Magic beans, not silver bullets’

In December, health minister Victoria Atkins advised the public to use the NHS 111 helpline for dental emergencies. She said: ‘If you are able to use the NHS app – or the 111 helpline in the most rural areas, where we have put in a little bit of extra funding, such as the south west – you can find other dentists and go to them.’

The British Dental Association (BDA) has criticised this strategy, saying ‘ministers must stop portraying NHS 111 or as “easy” solutions to secure access to care’.

The association also said ‘there is no reliable data on how these calls translate into appointments’. BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: ‘What this data can’t tell you is how many callers walked away with an appointment. Ministers keep telling desperate patients to hit the phones or the NHS website and all will be well. On access to care the reality is government is offering magic beans, not silver bullets.’

‘It’s time for a change’

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting suggested that the volume of calls reflected the ‘destruction’ of NHS dentistry under the current government. He said: ‘The sky-rocketing number of 111 calls shows the Tories’ destruction of NHS dentistry is putting the rest of the NHS under greater pressure.

‘After 14 years of Tory neglect, patients are desperately queuing around the block to see a dentist, literally pulling their own teeth out, and tooth decay is the number one reason young children are admitted to hospital. It’s time for a change.’

The shadow health secretary also pointed to the Labour Party’s plans to reform NHS dentistry should they be elected. He said: ‘Labour has a plan to rescue NHS dentistry, and reform it for the long run. We will fund 700,000 extra urgent appointments a year, deliver a targeted recruitment scheme for dentists in left-behind areas, and we will get straight to work on reforming the outdated NHS dental contract.’

The Labour Party also asked Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom for an estimate of how many emergency dental appointments would be delivered as part of the government’s NHS dentistry recovery plan. She replied: ‘Our dentistry recovery plan, backed by £200 million of funding, will make dental services faster, simpler, and fairer for National Health Service dental patients.

‘It will fund approximately 2.5 million additional appointments, or more than 1.5 million additional courses of dental treatment.’

However, she said that ‘no estimates are currently available of the number of urgent and emergency dental appointments that will be delivered’.

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