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Record number of 111 calls for dental problems shows desperate state of NHS dentistry

Nearly 5 million people called NHS 111 for dental problems in the last five years as millions of patients have nowhere else to turn.

The crisis in NHS dentistry has been laid bare by new data acquired from the Government by the Labour Party, which shows 111 calls made this year for dental problems are at a record high, at over 1.2 million.

Data shows a whopping 3,327 calls a day were made on average for the year 2023/4 compared to 2,024 calls made in 2019/20. These sky-high figures even trump the number of 111 calls made during the pandemic (1.1 million in 2020/1), when patients could not see an NHS dentist.

Over the last five years, just shy of 4.8 million calls were made to 111 about dental problems. Many people who ring 111 call with issues that are classified by the NHS as “urgent”, like severe dental pain.

These figures expose the consequences of being unable to access an NHS dental appointment after 14 years of Conservative government.

The crisis in NHS dentistry is well-documented, with 8 out of 10 dental practices no longer accepting new NHS patients and 1 in 10 people having been forced to attempt their own dental work. As people are unable to access dental care, their symptoms deteriorate, and they are forced to rely on emergency services once their condition has significantly worsened.

Earlier this year, the government announced a handful of dentistry measures, yet just 3% of dentists believe the so-called ‘recovery plan’ will solve the NHS patient crisis.

The government has also admitted in response to a parliamentary question from Labour that “no estimates are currently available of the number of urgent and emergency dental appointments that will be delivered through the plan.”

Preet Kaur Gill MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Primary Care and Public Health Secretary, said: “The sky-rocketing number of 111 calls shows the Tories’ destruction on 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.

“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.”

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