Having cancelled an appointment during lockdown, I now find myself unregistered – like many patients around the country
: Ben Birchall/PA
There are few areas of my life about which I have reason to be smug, but I will confess that having an NHS dentist was one of them. While my friends across the South West, where I live, bemoaned having to pay private or having no dentist at all, I would sit quietly and think: “Well, I have one… ha!”
So I sympathise acutely with those who have found themselves booted off their dentist’s NHS lists with no warning – because it has happened to me. Practices across the country have cited non-attendance over a period of two years or more, that included lockdown, as the reason for “de-listing” some patients, according to The Observer, forcing me and a great many others to join the back of the ever-growing queue for an NHS slot.
I joined my Bristol practice in early 2018 after striking lucky when it still had free NHS places. Of course, I had to wait for months for an appointment, but at the several check-ups I had with my cheerful Polish dentist I was always told that my teeth were ship-shape. Such was my desire to stay with the practice that, even when I moved a 30 minutes’ drive away, I kept my registration. There were, after all, no NHS dentists in my new area.
In 2021, I cancelled an appointment because I had Covid – a decision not taken lightly. It is the only time in my life I have cancelled an NHS appointment; indeed, aware of how stretched their resources are, I have arguably visited the dentist less often than I ought. And then, what with the length of the pandemic, school strikes and work, the years ran away with me.
I finally attempted to book an appointment again in December (I’m sure I need a filling), but was told by the receptionist that because I hadn’t been for more than two years, I had been kicked off their list. I apologised, pleaded, said I wouldn’t make the same mistake again and that I hadn’t been texted a reminder. “We don’t send reminders,” came the sharp reply.
In vain, I politely ed the manager, asking her to reconsider. “Unfortunately, we are at full capacity and no longer accept NHS patients,” was the response. “This is a national problem due to the lack of dentists. It is not the practice’s responsibility to contact you as we only have a duty of care to patients whilst they are receiving on-going treatment – unlike the GP when you become registered,” it went on. “If check-ups are not booked before leaving the dentist after treatment we do not send reminders. As much as I do understand the frustration, I am unable to accept you as an NHS patient and can only offer a private plan.”
I didn’t reply. What was the point? Instead, like many others, I was simply left without a dentist. It has played on my mind ever since. Should I pay privately? How much will that cost? What if I need a filling at £140. What if I need two?
More from News
More from The Telegraph