Health

Brits are flying to war-torn Ukraine for dental treatment due to NHS crisis – as Labour revives Margaret Thatcher-era Tory attack ad to claim ‘dentistry isn’t working’ with picture of snaking queue outside new surgery

Brits are flying to Ukraine for dental treatment because of the ever-worsening NHS crisis.

Industry leaders and MPs have warned that patients have been left with no option but to jet out to the war-torn nation after being unable to get help in the UK.

The crisis in NHS dentistry has been brewing for years, with some Brits even forced to pull out their own teeth with pliers. 

Others have queued from 4am to gain a spot at dentistry practices that have opened up their list to NHS patients in scenes described as being ‘reminiscent of Soviet-era Eastern Europe’. 

It comes as Labour today slammed the Government’s dentistry record, repurposing the Conservative’s 1970s ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ ad with the new headline ‘Dentistry isn’t working’ featuring a picture of hundreds lined up outside a newly-opened NHS practice in Bristol. 

In the new Labour ad, headlined ‘Dentistry Isn’t Working’, snaking queues of would-be patients are pictured waiting to register with a newly-opened NHS dental practice in Bristol. The photograph was taken yesterday as hundreds lined up outside St Pauls Dental Practice in the hope of securing a spot on their books 

Saatchi & Saatchi designed the famous poster for the Tory Party ahead of the 1979 general election, which saw Margaret Thatcher run against Labour prime minister James Callaghan

Saatchi & Saatchi designed the famous poster for the Tory Party ahead of the 1979 general election, which saw Margaret Thatcher run against Labour prime minister James Callaghan

Practice coordinator Shivani Bhandari said: 'We didn¿t expect queues like we¿ve seen over the last two days. Pictured, the line of people yesterday outside of Saint Pauls Dental Practice, in St Paul's, Bristol, which police were forced to break up

 Practice coordinator Shivani Bhandari said: ‘We didn’t expect queues like we’ve seen over the last two days. Pictured, the line of people yesterday outside of Saint Pauls Dental Practice, in St Paul’s, Bristol, which police were forced to break up

In March, Richard Howe (pictured), from Ely in Cambridgeshire, also revealed he had travelled to war-torn Ukraine to see a dentist after being unable to access care in the UK. Mr Howe developed an abscess under one of his teeth in February but was told by his local NHS dentist that there was 'no chance' of getting an NHS appointment and that he would have to be seen privately

In March, Richard Howe (pictured), from Ely in Cambridgeshire, also revealed he had travelled to war-torn Ukraine to see a dentist after being unable to access care in the UK. Mr Howe developed an abscess under one of his teeth in February but was told by his local NHS dentist that there was ‘no chance’ of getting an NHS appointment and that he would have to be seen privately

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s (BDA) General Dental Practice Committee, told the BBC’s Today Programme: ‘I’ve got great sympathies for people in the [Bristol] queue. 

‘I never thought I’d see the police having to break up crowds of people trying to access dental care.

‘But we’ve seen UK patients heading to Ukraine to access dental care, we’ve seen people taking matters into their own hands with pliers and DIY dentistry. 

‘But what we’ve got is a Health Secretary — she likes to say she’s making the NHS faster, simpler and fairer. But there is a real risk that not a word of this will apply to dentistry.’

Addressing the Commons today, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said there had been reports of ‘Ukrainian refugees booking dentist appointments back home and returning for treatment because it is easier to fly to a war-torn country than it is to see an NHS dentist in England’. 

How much does NHS dentistry cost?  

There are 3 NHS charge bands:

Band 1: £25.80

Covers an examination, diagnosis and advice. If necessary, it also includes X-rays, a scale and polish, and planning for further treatment.

Band 2: £70.70

Covers all treatment included in Band 1, plus additional treatment, such as fillings, root canal treatment and removing teeth (extractions).

Band 3: £306.80

Covers all treatment included in Bands 1 and 2, plus more complex procedures, such as crowns, dentures and bridges.

For comparison, check-ups can cost between £20 and £120 at private dentists, according to Which?.

Dentures and bridges can also cost up to £2,520, the consumer watchdog says.

He added: ‘At least there’s one Government policy that’s getting flights off the ground because it’s certainly not their Rwanda scheme failure.’ 

BDA analysis last year found that more than 1,000 fewer dentists were carrying out NHS work in 2022 than there were before the pandemic. 

Around 95 per cent of practices were also not accepting new NHS patients.

Last year, a mother told how she returned to Ukraine with her seven-year-old daughter after being told she faced a wait of four months for NHS dental treatment in Aberdeenshire. 

Oksana Martirosova, who has been living with her family in Scotland since September 2022, said her daughter Lisa urgently needed teeth removed under general anaesthetic after suffering ‘terrible’ tooth pain and stomach ache from daily antibiotics. 

In March, they travelled 2,000-miles to Ukraine via a flight to Poland and a gruelling 15-hour bus journey over the border to their home city of Kyiv.

At the time, she told the Press & Journal: ‘In our country, this would be an emergency and you would go to the hospital the same day or the next day, not after several months.

‘It is crazy because this can lead to very difficult problems. I don’t know how people with small children live with this problem.’

In March, Richard Howe, from Ely in Cambridgeshire, also revealed he had travelled to war-torn Ukraine to see a dentist after being unable to access care in the UK. 

Mr Howe developed an abscess under one of his teeth in February but was told by his local NHS dentist that there was ‘no chance’ of getting an NHS appointment and that he would have to be seen privately.

After looking into this option, the least expensive quote he got was £875, plus a £75 emergency fee.

As a last resort, the father-of-three decided to travel to Kyiv, where he had lived with his family for 12 years before the war, to have the work done at his old practice.

It comes as the Labour Party today attacked the Government on its dentistry record, by repurposing the ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ Conservative ad.

Saatchi & Saatchi designed the famous poster for the Tory Party ahead of the 1979 general election, which saw Margaret Thatcher run against Labour prime minister James Callaghan.

Playing on the Government’s record on unemployment, the poster showed a snaking queue of people waiting to collect government benefits outside an unemployment office, beneath the phrase ‘Labour Isn’t Working’.

After looking into this option, the least expensive quote he got was £875, plus a £75 emergency fee. As a last resort, the father-of-three decided to travel to Kyiv , where he had lived with his family for 12 years before the war, to have the work done at his old practice

After looking into this option, the least expensive quote he got was £875, plus a £75 emergency fee. As a last resort, the father-of-three decided to travel to Kyiv , where he had lived with his family for 12 years before the war, to have the work done at his old practice

Overall, 18.1million adults saw their dentist in the two years to June 2023, up from 16.4million in the 24 months to June 2022. But it is still well below the 21million seen in the two years to June 2020

Overall, 18.1million adults saw their dentist in the two years to June 2023, up from 16.4million in the 24 months to June 2022. But it is still well below the 21million seen in the two years to June 2020

This chart shows the number of dentists who carried out NHS activity each year, the figure dropped sharply during the Covid pandemic but has slightly recovered to just over 24,000 according to the latest data

This chart shows the number of dentists who carried out NHS activity each year, the figure dropped sharply during the Covid pandemic but has slightly recovered to just over 24,000 according to the latest data

Playing on the Government's record on unemployment, the poster showed a snaking queue of people waiting to collect government benefits outside an unemployment office, beneath the phrase 'Labour Isn't Working'

Playing on the Government’s record on unemployment, the poster showed a snaking queue of people waiting to collect government benefits outside an unemployment office, beneath the phrase ‘Labour Isn’t Working’

In the new repurposed ad, headlined ‘Dentistry Isn’t Working’, snaking queues of would-be patients are pictured waiting to register with a newly-opened NHS dental practice in Bristol.

It was posted by Labour peer Lord Kennedy of Southwark. 

The photograph was taken yesterday as hundreds lined up outside St Pauls Dental Practice in the hope of securing a spot on their books. 

In scenes illustrating the appointments crisis plaguing the country, elderly and disabled people were among the crowd who gathered in the rain from as early as 5am.

Shocking aerial pictures showed the extent of the queues, which were described by a local news website as being ‘reminiscent of Soviet-era Eastern Europe’.

Dozens have waited in the queues since Monday, with more longing for an NHS dentist, arriving early this morning. 

They were, however, met with a sign on the door saying: ‘We are not enrolling anymore patients.’ 

The practice set up a ticketing system in an attempt to control the chaos. But Brits have told how they were left angry and frustrated by the set-up.

It also didn’t stop people pushing in at the front to cries of ‘get to the back’. 

Police were even forced to turn some patients away earlier in the week, cutting off a line which snaked hundreds of metres.

The surgery was previously run by Bupa Dental Care and some people who queued up were loyal patients who were let down when the company shut its doors last summer.

A campaign to reopen the dentists was set up and people from St Pauls began daily protests outside the building which belongs to a housing association.

The campaigners — called the Dental Action Group — persuaded Bupa to leave the expensive dentistry equipment inside in the hope that someone would take over.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who stood outside the St Pauls Dental Practice this morning, told BBC Breakfast: ‘It has just gone quarter past seven and there is already a queue of people.

‘Those people have been told that the practice isn’t enrolling new patients today.

‘But people are still queuing already on a very cold morning because they are desperate.

‘I have spoken to one woman who had to go private to get some emergency dental work – a bit of patching up with a temporary filling – she’s desperate now to get into this NHS dentists’ because otherwise she’s going to be hit with a bill of potentially thousands of pounds that she can’t afford.’

‘I spoke to another man who has been waiting three years without a dentist.’

Meanwhile, Eddie Crouch, BDA chairman, said that queues for NHS dentistry would be repeated elsewhere due to the demand for health service dental care. 

He added: ‘There are towns across this country where any new practice opening would see a repeat of scenes we saw in Bristol.

NHS dental services for children have also suffered, with only 56 per cent seeing a dentist within the last year, 700,000 fewer than pre-pandemic

NHS dental services for children have also suffered, with only 56 per cent seeing a dentist within the last year, 700,000 fewer than pre-pandemic

Only 43 per cent of over-18s were seen by a dentist in the 24 months to June this year, compared to more than half in the same period before the pandemic struck

Only 43 per cent of over-18s were seen by a dentist in the 24 months to June this year, compared to more than half in the same period before the pandemic struck

‘The police might want to thank the Government that budgets are so tight we won’t be seeing many grand openings any time soon.’

It comes as the Government today unveiled its long-awaited NHS dental recovery plan, described as ‘putting NHS dentistry on a sustainable footing’.

Under Rishi Sunak’s bold blueprint to fix the appointments crisis plaguing millions, dentists will be offered up to £50 to see patients who haven’t had a check-up in the last two years. 

Up to 240 dentists willing to relocate to ‘dental deserts’ will also be paid a £20,000 ‘golden hello’.

But the plan — unveiled 10 months after it was promised — was slammed by dental bosses and politicians for not going far enough, with one saying that it amounted to ‘rearranging the deckchairs’. 

Health leaders instead called for ‘radical reform’ of the dental contract, accusing Mr Sunak of U-turning on his pledge to restore the crippled industry. 

Labour has also accused the Government of lifting much of the blueprint from their own plans. 

Mr Streeting told BBC Breakfast: ‘What the Government’s announced today, much of which has been lifted from what Labour has announced as an emergency dental rescue package, will go some way to plugging the immediate shortfall.

‘But what it doesn’t do, and what the dentists are crying out for, is reform of the dentist contract so we can recruit and retain the NHS dentists we need.’

Brits have also told how they have been sat on waiting lists for months and travel abroad to see a dentist after finding it impossible to get an NHS appointment, slamming the system as ‘Victorian’. 

Dr Paul Woodhouse, who has a dental practice in Stockton-on-Tees told BBC Radio 4: ‘People have attempted to take their own teeth out, DIY fillings. 

In scenes illustrating the appointments crisis plaguing the country, hundreds lined up outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice in Bristol on Monday and Tuesday in the hope of securing a spot on their books. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning

In scenes illustrating the appointments crisis plaguing the country, hundreds lined up outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice in Bristol on Monday and Tuesday in the hope of securing a spot on their books. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning

More patients longing for an NHS dentist turned up today but were met with a sign on the door saying: 'We are not enrolling anymore patients.' Pictured, the sign outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning

More patients longing for an NHS dentist turned up today but were met with a sign on the door saying: ‘We are not enrolling anymore patients.’ Pictured, the sign outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning

Elderly and disabled people were among the crowd who gathered in the rain from as early as 5am. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning

Elderly and disabled people were among the crowd who gathered in the rain from as early as 5am. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning

‘We’ve had to send people to A&E because they’ve got life threatening infections. We’re back in Victorian times.’

Meanwhile, one caller, known only as Mike who lives in Dorset, said the situation was a ‘dental desert’.

He told the Today programme: ‘We lived in Surrey about 18 months ago and I had an NHS dentist. It didn’t occur to me that when we moved to East Dorset that it would be so difficult to find one.

‘When we arrived I tried to find one. There was nobody taking on NHS patients. I was amazed to find they wouldn’t even put you on a waiting list. 

‘I’ve tried to use the NHS website. After having some tooth pain I had an emergency appointment and had to go and pay privately. 

‘I was simply told that the nearest place I might get a walk-in appointment was Southampton. That’s an hour and a half to an hour and three-quarters drive. 

‘East Dorset is essentially a dental desert as far as I’m concerned and I still don’t have one.’

Another caller, known only as Adrian from Surrey said: ‘I recently moved and tried to sign up as a new patient at my local NHS dentist who informed me at the time that they weren’t accepting any new patients. 

‘I did a lot of calling around and eventually I found a dentist that was accepting new patients. 

‘However, at that point there was another wait so I then waited eight and a half months before I was registered there.

‘It was just a case of ‘clearly I’m not going to be able to get the treatment I need here’ so I started exploring other options and ended up actually having treatment abroad.’

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