Ropergate Dental Care in Pontefract: Patients told they'll no longer get check-ups, as surgery says staff have had 'torrent of abuse'
Dozens of patients at an NHS dentist have been told they will no longer be seen for routine check-ups.
Ropergate Dental Care in Pontefract emailed a number of surgery regulars this week to inform them they'll only be seen for "emergency treatment" in the foreseeable future.
Patients have expressed shock and anger at the move, with no nearby NHS practices taking on anyone new at the moment.
Ropergate said the decision had been made with "deep regret" and that it was a result of a "broken system", amid a nationwide shortage of dentists and underfunding from central government.
The practice also said its staff had had a "torrent of abuse" over recent days and had had to install a panic button at the surgery.
The exact number of patients who've been told they'll no longer be recalled for regular appointments has not been confirmed.
Kelly Hollis, who's been a patient at the surgery for 30 years, is among those affected.
Kelly said: "It's very frustrating.
"Looking at social media, it's unbelievable the number of people in Pontefract that seem to have been affected.
"I don't hold out much hope of getting an NHS dentist elsewhere, the way things are."
In its email, the practice also suggested that when it could revert back to non-emergency work, it would prioritise patients it had last seen after March 2019.
That would exclude Kelly, whose last appointment at Ropergate was in December 2018.
She added: "I went with my children for their last appointment in December 2019. I normally have mine at the same time as them, but when I went with them I was told I wasn't due.
"We obviously stayed away during 2020. It does feel like I've been punished for sticking to the rules."
Kelly said she later received a follow-up email from the surgery to say her two daughters would still be able to have regular check-ups, having initially believed they would be affected too.
NHS regulations mean that patients are not registered with a dental surgery in the same way they are with a GP practice.
That allows dental practices to stop seeing patients, should they choose to.
Writing on social media, one woman said: "My husband has been attending this dental practice for over 30 years.
"He phoned numerous times to make an appointment during the last 18 months but was told to wait until November.
"He’s now received an email to say he is no longer able to attend the practice and was given a vague excuse that this has been caused by the pandemic.
"So much for loyalty."
Ropergate said a combination of factors had led to a "perfect storm" in dentistry nationally.
That includes a serious national shortage of dentists, the loss of professionals from the EU, a system described as underfunded and the Covid backlog.
Covid-secure protocols at the surgery also mean the practice's three dentists are seeing 70 per cent fewer patients than it was before March 2020.
A spokesperson for Ropergate said: "Pre-pandemic our dentists could see between 30 and 40 patients a day, each.
"Now each of them can only see 12 a day.
"All the while we have to deal with the backlog of dental care which has built up during lockdown.
"I really want to stress the thinking behind our decision to temporarily suspend recalls is so that we can prioritise urgent care.
"The NHS is intended to be there at the point of need - we have to do this so that we can see the patients that need us the most."
The practice said staff had been "on a hamster wheel" ever since the end of lockdown, such is the overwhelming demand for treatment.
The spokesperson said staff had received abuse from patients even before the decision, because they've been physically unable to keep up with demand.
They added: "We don't have a break. It just goes on and on and on. Nobody is pressing the pause button.
"We're not for one minute being dismissive of people's concerns and we understand them. We absolutely did not want to do this. But it's a broken system.
"We're not abandoning patients and we're not striking people off. What we're saying is we cannot recall them for routine check-ups.
"This week our staff have had a torrent of abuse, to the point where we've had to lock the practice doors and install a panic button.
"We've had abuse on every forum on social media."
The news follows warnings from a senior dentist in Wakefield earlier this year that many people would struggle to access dental treatment post-pandemic.
Speaking in April, Joe Hendron, from St Michael's Dental Practice, said the entire system had been underfunded since the mid-2000s.
He also said that calls for proceeds from the sugar tax to be invested in dental care had fallen on deaf ears.
Wakefield councillor Betty Rhodes, who's the chair of the local health scrutiny committee, said the issue at Ropergate was reflective of a widespread national problem within dentistry.
"It's frustrating and upsetting for patients," she said. "But this has come about because of the national contract (for dental services) and that's set by the government.
"It's not fit for purpose and it needs to change."
Local Democracy Reporting Service