Somerset’s NHS dentist scandal

Somerset people are having great difficulty in accessing dental services, and many practices have ceased taking new patients. This scandalous lack of dental care was discussed the July meeting of Bridgwater Labour Party, with reports of desperate individuals, some in serious pain, unable to gain access an NHS dentist. Lack of access can have serious consequences for health and well-being, particularly for vulnerable members of our community. Everyone must have access to an NHS dentist. The new requirement for dental practices to regularly update the NHS “Find a Dentist” service, with details of what categories of NHS patients they are accepting is clearly not working, with lack of information from many practices. Labour Party Branch Vice Chair Cllr Tim Mander (Westover) said “It does not take 5 minutes scanning the pages of social media to see that one of the greatest challenges facing the residents of Bridgwater is accessing NHS Dental care. It is nigh impossible to register with an NHS dentist and and registering with the private sector, even if you can afford it, is getting increasingly difficult. But after 13 years of Tory austerity is it surprising that the NHS is on its knees? Unfortunately, the health of the nation is suffering and it is clear only the election of a Labour Government will see steps put in place to address these basic shortcomings.”

Toothless in Somerset

Cllr Tim Mander “Lack of NHS Dentistry is one of the greatest challenges facing us”

Bridgwater Labour Party supports the “Toothless in Somerset” campaign recently launched by Taunton and West Somerset Trades Council. A national campaign “Toothless in England” was set up in 2021, to lobby MPs and raise awareness of the issue. Its simple goal is that everyone should be able to access an NHS dentist. Registration with a dental practice – the process that meant that you were on a patient list –ceased in 2006, when the then Labour Government introduced a new contract for NHS Dental Services. Two years later, in 2008, the Health Select Committee described that contract as “unfit for purpose”. Very little has been done to improve matters since then.
The last time the Adults and Health Scrutiny Committee at Somerset County Council received a formal report on Oral Health was 26 January 2022. Cllr Andrew Govier (Labour councillor for the Wellington Division and member of the scrutiny committee) has asked for an update at every meeting since then, a request supported by all of the committee members.

Keep the pressure on

Cllr Hilary Bruce “We’ll keep the pressure on”

Cllr Hilary Bruce (Labour councillor for the Bridgwater North and Central Division and member of the scrutiny committee) said “It is extremely disappointing that this update is still not on the agreed agenda, despite the efforts made by the committee officers to obtain a full report. The latest update is that responsibility for this has been devolved from NHS England to the Integrated Care Board (ICB) and at the most recent ICB meeting Mel Lock, Director of Adult Services for Somerset Council, reported that this change was just being implemented and that she hoped the ICB would be able to give an update very soon. Considering the current state of affairs, it can’t come soon enough and we will keep the pressure on until we receive an update!”

The next meeting of the Integrated Care Board is at 9.30am, on Thursday 27th July at Wynford
House Yeovil. Their AGM is on Monday 18th September 4 to 7pm at Bridgwater and Taunton College (Taunton Campus). These are public meetings open to anyone who is interested and public questions can be raised. See this link for more information about the ICB and the Public Questions Forum: