Chris Orchin, Chairman of Healthwatch Isle of Wight
The clue is in the name. Healthwatch Isle of Wight was set up as part of an England-wide independent network to keep a watch on local services both public and privately-owned. Part of our remit is to suggest where improvements can be made and encouraged where services are inadequate or failing. We are very happy to pass on your positive comments about organisations and services as well, and we know that this is welcomed.
To achieve our aims, we rely on members of the community keeping us informed about their experiences. In addition we have a team of volunteers who visit care homes, surgeries, hospital departments etc, from time to time, to see how health and social care is provided.
Your comments are analysed and in-depth reports are undertaken where needed. These are sent to service providers and commissioners who are required to respond before we publish our work.
To keep track of our reports or bi-monthly intelligence reports (what you’ve told us) drop in on our website, healthwatchisleofwight.co.uk, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. We can also be contacted through a dedicated phone line (608608) operated by Citizens’ Advice which is part of Healthwatch.
In March 2020, in response to Covid, there was a national directive to cease non-urgent dental care. In normal circumstances this would be concerning but for a service which for at least a generation has been increasingly difficult to access on the NHS, the effect compounded existing problems.
I can remember as a child going to the dentist every six months for a check-up and told to brush my teeth or else. There was the threat of the drill if I didn’t. Dentistry, in terms of what is possible, has come a long way in the intervening years but it has come at a cost, not least for those who cannot afford private dental treatment.
Against this background of increasing public concerns we undertook a Dental Service survey on the Island late last year. The full report can be seen on our website. I would like to express my personal thanks to the 706 people who responded. Almost needless to say, it is a sorry story, with an overwhelming number of poor experiences.
Very significant was the length of time many people have been trying to access NHS Dentistry. One person wrote, ‘Twelve years I’ve tried for me and the kids’; another wrote, ‘No-one taken us on; five kids never been to a dentist’. There are many more similar observations in the report.
So where does this leave us? First, many other local Healthwatches have reported similar concerns. Healthwatch England has produced a national report and is currently engaged in discussions at a high level about the way forward. In addition, the issue has been raised by MPs of all parties in debates about the NHS Reform Bill (that’s another story).
One bit of good news, since our report was published, NHS England has agreed to undertake an oral needs assessment on the Island and in Hampshire to see what is needed. This is the FIRST step, but even with best will from everyone there is no immediate solution, as there are simply not enough dentists. To secure change pressure must be maintained by everyone.
We will continue to do our bit, but to do this we will need to hear about your experiences and not just about dental services but any health service you receive. Give us a call or go to healthwatchisleofwight.co.uk/have-your-say.