The British Dental Association (BDA) has joined with sector leaders and learning disability charity Mencap to press Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock to set out an action plan to ease the backlog on tooth extractions in hospitals, warning that many young and vulnerable patients across England are now expected to see waiting times of up to a year lengthen significantly.
Extractions, performed under general anesthetic on children and adults with a complex mix of medical conditions including autism and learning difficulties are the responsibility of community dental services and hospital dental services. Data gathered by the BDA suggests that many services have yet to resume treatment since the start of the pandemic lockdown, and where they have resumed, capacity is often halved to meet social distancing procedures.
Tooth decay has been immovable as the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children, the BDA said, with recent analysis by the Local Government Association indicating that 180 procedures took place every working day in England in 2018 and 2019 on patients under the age of 18.
Extractions formed part of the many elective procedures that were postponed among 50,000 children from March to May. High demand and underinvestment had seen waiting times hit over a year prior to the pandemic, a figure that is now expected to surge, the BDA said. Official targets for delivering treatment vary by area from four to 18 weeks, the BDA added, owing to different approaches to commissioning services.
In an open letter to Hancock, the BDA has called for an urgent action plan and to publish an internal Public Health England review into the true scale of extractions under general anesthetic, which is thought to be significantly understated in official statistics, the BDA said.
“The hundreds of extractions that took place every day in our hospitals ended with the start of lockdown, but demand hasn’t gone anywhere. Increasingly stretched services are now struggling to meet the backlog, while tens of thousands of vulnerable adults and young children wait in vain,” said Charlotte Waite, chair of the BDA’s England Community Dental Services Committee.
“The government has a responsibility to act for patients, many of whom were already facing a year of toothache, and the impact this has on their general well-being,” Waite said. “We need a plan and full disclosure on the true scale of a problem that is already a national scandal.”