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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Kirklees children left in agony waiting over a year for tooth extractions

Kirklees residents are dealing with the consequences of a dental crisis, with almost a third of the borough’s five-year-olds experiencing tooth decay and some facing agonising 77-week waits for tooth extractions.

Reports to yesterday’s (24 January) Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Panel paint a bleak picture of dental care, not only in Kirklees but the wider West Yorkshire region.

One of the reports by Healthwatch West Yorkshire – an organisation looking to bring the voices of patients to the fore – highlights a number of problems including six-year-long waits before accessing a dentist, excessive use of antibiotics, profound mental health impacts, and the self-extraction of teeth.

A representative of Healthwatch Kirklees, Karen Huntley, attended the meeting and reiterated much of the information in the report about Kirklees residents struggling to access dental services regardless of whether they are routine or urgent. She said it has proved “very difficult stroke impossible” to help people access care and highlighted the impact this is having on mental health.

Other concerning insights were shared by Hayden Ridsdale – the Strategy and Partnerships Programme Manager at the NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (WYICB) – who acknowledged the issues highlighted by Ms Huntley and gave a presentation on the district’s dental services. The WYICB became responsible for commissioning dental services for the area last April.

Mr Ridsdale said that on average, there are around 1,000 dental appointments too few in Kirklees and this varies depending on the part of the borough. In Huddersfield, there are 1.09 patients for every available appointment, whereas in Dewsbury there are almost two patients per available appointment, raising concern over health inequality.

He also explained that in the case of the paediatric services at Locala – a community dental service for Calderdale and Kirklees – 1855 new patients are waiting for an assessment and 331 waiting for tooth extraction. The longest wait time for an extraction is 50 weeks and the longest wait from becoming a new patient to having a tooth extracted is 77 weeks.

Worrying statistics about the dental health of the borough’s children were shared in another council report. A government study from 2019 showed that 31.2% of five-year-olds in Kirklees had visible tooth decay, with 2% experiencing sepsis as a result.

However, figures showing the percentage of Kirklees children who had accessed a dentist in the past 12 months were higher than both the Yorkshire and the Humber, and national averages, standing at 63.6%.

Placing further strain on the children’s dental services is the absence of admitted paediatric provision at Dewsbury Hospital. The meeting heard that patients have the option to travel 11 miles for surgery and treatment at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.

However, Mark Smith, Deputy Director of Operations for the Division of Surgery at the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, told the meeting that alternatives were being explored for the use of the Dewsbury site including allocating certain days for treating children. He said that this would allow the service to “catch up quite quickly” with the backlog.

Cllr Beverley Addy (Labour, Colne Valley) said: “What underpins that is the lack of NHS appointments in the first place. This backlog does not clear itself when you’re getting people coming to you in emergency states when people have been waiting so long.” The councillor wanted to know when there would be more NHS capacity, staff and facilities in the area.

Mr Ridsdale said that an “incredible amount of traction, momentum and speed” has been built since the WYICB took over as commissioner. Finances, workforce, and contract reform were raised as key challenges that needed to be addressed locally and nationally.

On a local level, he highlighted the £6.5m investment that is being spent in the current financial year to tackle the problems faced. Nearly £5m has gone into improving urgent dental care, with money also being spent on tackling dental health inequality by reaching out to children in deprived areas and other vulnerable groups.

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