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West Norfolk families struggling to access dental care for children

Families in West Norfolk are struggling to access local dental care for their children, with 15 per cent of youngsters having never been to a dentist.

That's according to the results of a study published this week by the region's health watchdog.

And Sir Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, has said he will be taking up the issue with the relevant governmental department.

Dentist (2066728)
Dentist (2066728)

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: "The high rates of poor dental hygiene and associated health problems prevalent in parts of Norfolk cannot be prevented when children do not have access to appropriate care."

The survey, conducted by Healthwatch Norfolk, of more than 300 parents and guardians found that, while the majority of families take their children for a check-up at least once a year, and most spoke positively of their experience, 15 per cent said their children had never visited a dentist at all.

Reasons given included availability of NHS services, age of children, quality of services and appointment cancellations.

More than a quarter of those surveyed said that they have to travel over 10 miles for their children to be treated, with lacking transport links in rural locations acting as a further barrier for any families without their own car, all of which make fitting appointments around school or work difficult.

A spokesman for Healthwatch said its latest report will be presented to the Health Overview Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) at County Hall in Norwich next week before councillors are given the opportunity to question NHS England over the report’s findings.

He said the watchdog has worked closely with the Royal Air Force and the Norfolk Armed Forces Covenant Board to get the opinions of these families, and Wing Commander Stew Geary, of RAF Marham, will be jointly presenting the report to the committee.

Tony Tomkinson, Norfolk Armed Forces commissioner, said: “In recent years, serving personnel at RAF Marham have frequently told the Norfolk Armed Forces Covenant Board that their families are struggling to access dental services in West Norfolk.”

A mystery shopping exercise conducted by Healthwatch also confirmed the majority of West Norfolk practices were not accepting new patients at that time.

Simon Evans, locality director for NHS England, Midlands and East, which awards the dentist contracts, said NHS England “welcomed the report”.

“However, the report highlights some areas where improvements could be
made and we will be considering these findings very carefully.”

Mr Evans said NHS England is “committed to ensuring everyone is able to access high quality dental care”.

He said anyone who is unsure where to go for local dental services can find out by using the NHS 111 service, or by visiting www.nhs.uk.

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