A&E attendances for dental problems costing NHS in Sheffield hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, The Star’s exclusive investigation shows
Hundreds of people are turning up at Sheffield’s overstretched A&Es each year with toothache and other dental complaints, The Star can exclusively reveal.
In the last year, 710 patients have visited A&E and minor injury departments with dental problems in the city, costing the NHS almost £120,000, figures obtained by a JPIMedia investigation show.
And over the last five years, almost 3,000 people have sought emergency medical treatment for dental problems in Sheffield, costing taxpayers around £450,000.
Across the UK, more than 77,000 people attended A&E departments or minor injury services in 2019/20 with dental problems, costing the NHS an estimated £13m.
And with not all NHS bodies responding to Freedom of Information requests, health experts say they fear the real cost will be higher.
Common complaints included toothache, cavities and gum disease.
Critics have blamed the growing trend on rocketing fees for NHS dentistry and continued difficulty accessing appointments, particularly in England – even before the first coronavirus wave brought dental treatment to a standstill.
A fee rise planned for April was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Government this week announced that fees for dental procedures would increase by another 5 per cent on December 14th.
The British Dental Association, which represents dentists, said in almost all cases, patients were unlikely to get anything more than pain relief and would be referred to a dentist, meaning this route offered people little help while lumbering the NHS with extra costs.
They called on the Government to ‘stop treating our patients like a cash cow’.
Dave Cottam, chairman of its general dental practice committee, said: “It’s no surprise patients were turning up at A&E departments in droves.
“Millions have struggled to secure an NHS dental appointment, and those that do find themselves clobbered with inflation-busting hikes in charges.
"Covid has simply upped the ante. When ministers treat dentistry as a Cinderella service the impact is felt across the NHS. Sadly, a decade of cuts is pushing patients to overstretched A&E medics and GPs who are neither trained nor equipped to treat them.
“We will see no progress until the Government stops treating our patients like a cash cow and provides adequate funding.”
In England, dental treatment fees have seen nearly a decade of inflation-busting hikes.
Meanwhile, the amount invested into dentistry each year by the Government has fallen by a fifth – nearly £500m – in real terms since 2010.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Dental charges help towards the running costs of the NHS, but we carefully consider them every year and continue to offer people on low-incomes free treatment through exemptions and the NHS low-income scheme.”
Dentists warn of patients abandoning NHS treatment as millions face large bills
People in Sheffield are abandoning vital NHS dental treatments because they cannot afford the rising fees, dentists have warned.
Last year, more than 8,000 bills of £100 or more were handed out to patients in Sheffield, costing them over £2.2million.
And in the past five years, patients in the city received more than 46,000 bills of over £100, totalling more than £11million.
Across the UK, six million bills of £100 or more have been handed to patients in the past five years, costing more than £1.3bn.
The Government said help was available for people unable to afford dental fees, but with annual dental fee increases of 5 per cent becoming the norm in recent years, more and more patients are failing to get treatments they desperately need.
Experts said this happens most often with work falling into the most expensive fee bracket, Band 3, currently £269.30 across England.
President of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Ben Atkins, said he has had ‘quite a few patients’ fail to show up for treatment or even disappear halfway through a course of appointments.
He said: “We’ve had people just disappearing and that’s the problem. They will book in for a treatment and then not turn up because they don’t have the money for it.”
Dr Atkins agreed with the Government that help was out there for patients who do not qualify for free treatment, but said he suspected many people did not know how to access it.
He said: “It is wholly unacceptable for dental charges to continue rising above the rate of inflation.
“Sustained price hikes are making dentistry less affordable for the population and there is a real danger that more people are not able to access the care they need.
“We are highly concerned that this will mean more people avoid regular dental check-ups, which could lead to any number of diseases and conditions being missed and undiagnosed.
“Gum disease, tooth decay and mouth cancer can all be treated and managed if caught quickly. The consequences of late diagnosis can be life-threatening.
“Young people, families on lower incomes, and the elderly are all at risk of being alienated. The Government must be working to encourage people towards NHS dentistry, not driving them away.”
Eddie Crouch, the chairman of the British Dental Association, said charges “should never be a substitute for adequate state funding”.
He said: “Patient charges are designed to discourage attendance, and it’s exactly what they do best.”
The Department of Health and Social Care, which sets dental fees for England, said: “We want everyone to have access to high-quality dental care.
“When setting dental fees, careful consideration is given to the need to ensure value for money for the NHS and affordability for patients.”