A retired couple who have spent three years desperately trying to get an appointment with an NHS dentist have resorted to “crossing their fingers that nothing goes wrong”.
Ann and Peter Flello, from Stafford, have been forced to give up regular check-ups since their dental practice stopped treating NHS patients.
The only remaining practitioner at the anonymous practice offering NHS appointments moved away and has only offered private appointments since.
The Flellos are among thousands of Britons struggling to access affordable dental care.
The magnitude of the crisis was perfectly illustrated by hundreds of patients queuing outside a newly opened NHS dental surgery in Bristol this week. Some stood in the cold for six hours hoping to be hired.
Ann and Peter Flello have been forced to give up regular dental checks for three years – and are among thousands of regular Brits struggling to access affordable dental care.
Mrs Flello, 70, told MailOnline she has only seen NHS dentists since she was a child.
“We used to go every 12 months,” he said. ‘Now we haven’t had any check-ups.
“We keep our fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong and we maintain our oral hygiene.”
The couple have been stuck on the practice’s NHS patient waiting list for three years and no spaces have yet arisen.
Despite multiple promises that an NHS dentist would arrive soon, they never came forward, leaving the couple stuck in limbo.
Mrs Flello, who previously worked as a checkout supervisor at a supermarket, said the practice has offered to put them on their private list, for a fee of £40 a month.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but if you have to keep paying this £40 for your check-ups and things like that, it’s quite expensive,” he said.
Despite hoping that they would not need any emergency dental work, like many others, they inevitably did.
Mr. Flello had a crown fall off one of his teeth, so naturally they called his dentist for help.
Mrs Flello said: “They said, ‘No, we can’t do it on the NHS, but if you come later, we can track you down privately’ as quickly as you want.”
Knowing it couldn’t wait, the couple paid £120 to have the crown repaired privately.
The amount is more than four times the equivalent charge of £25.80 charged by the NHS for such a procedure.
“It had to be done, so that was it,” Ann said.
Just this week, the couple tried another dentist in Stafford after being told it accepted NHS patients.
But their hopes were dashed when they learned that, while the dentist was treating NHS patients, appointments were reserved for people on benefits.
Mrs Flello said she had been struck by the unfairness of the situation and urged ministers to act to help people like them.
‘You work all your life, you pay all your payments to the NHS, and for what?’ she said.
‘If you sit at home and have never bothered to work and get all these benefits and credits, you can go in and get what you want.
The crisis in NHS dentistry has been brewing for years, with some Britons forced to pull their teeth out with pliers or travel abroad to see a dentist due to a lack of places in the UK. Others have queued since 4am to get a place at dental surgeries that have opened their list to NHS patients. Pictured is the queue of people yesterday outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice, in St Paul’s, Bristol, which the police were forced to break up.
More patients longing for an NHS dentist turned up today, only to be met with a sign on the door saying: “We are not signing up any more patients.” Pictured is the sign outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning.
‘We both work, raise our children and then continue working until we get to where we are today with retirement, so we don’t have to depend on anyone.
“But when you want a dentist, you can’t get it because you don’t demand anything.”
The couple have been told to wait and “try again in the summer” to get it, but past experience has taught them not to get their hopes up.
“They didn’t even have a waiting list, it’s first come, first served,” he said.
The Flellos are not alone with their dental problems. Other Brits have shared how they have taken drastic measures amid the NHS dental crisis.
Some have described living on painkillers and soup after failing to get their corona checked at an affordable price.
Britons have even flown to war-torn Ukraine for private dental work, unable to afford equivalent procedures in the UK.
Yesterday, the Government finally unveiled its long-awaited NHS dental recovery plan, described as “putting NHS dentistry on a sustainable footing”.
The latest national figures show that 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 hit, although some regions have fared worse than others.
Your browser does not support iframes.
Under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s bold plan to solve the appointment crisis affecting millions of people, dentists will be offered up to £50 to see patients who have not had a check-up in the last two years.
Additionally, up to 240 dentists wishing to relocate to “dental deserts” will receive a “golden hello” of £20,000.
The Government is also controversially planning to add fluoride to the drinking water of millions of Britons in a bid to passively protect their oral health.
But the overall plan, unveiled 10 months after it was promised, was criticized by dental chiefs and politicians for not going far enough.
The British Dental Association said all it was about was “rearranging the deckchairs” and that this will not bring the desired and much-needed change.
Instead, health leaders called for a “radical reform” of the dental contract, accusing Sunak of doing a U-turn on his promise to restore the crippled industry.
The crisis has led to the rise of DIY dentistry, where desperate Britons have resorted to using household implements such as pliers to remove rotten teeth.
Experts have also raised the frightening prospect of missed cases of oral cancer, which are typically detected in their earliest and most treatable stages during routine dental checkups.