East Lancashire towns are becoming ‘dental deserts’, as a shockingly low number of the region’s dentists are accepting new NHS patients.

At the time of writing, only six East Lancashire NHS dentists are taking on new patients, three of which are in Blackburn.

Blackburn MP Kate Hollern said dentistry as been has been treated as an optional extra” by the Conservative government, adding that the people of Blackburn are “paying the price of year-on-year budget cuts”.

According to the NHS website, six dentists in East Lancashire are taking on new children, adults and adults entitled to free dental care.

These are:

  • L A Southworth Dental Surgery, Richmond Terrace, Blackburn
  • Drakes Dental Care, New Bank Road, Blackburn
  • Accrington Road Dental Surgery, Accrington Road, Blackburn
  • Clayton Dental Care, Pickup St, Clayton-le-Moors
  • Drake’s Dental Care, Berry Lane, Longridge
  • Market Place Dental Practice, Market Place, Ramsbottom

This means that no dentists are taking on new patients in Burnley, Darwen, Rossendale or Pendle.

Across the UK, people have chosen to pull out their own teeth at home because they cannot access or afford an NHS dentist, according to a report that was issued this summer.

The Health and Social Care Select Committee’s examination of NHS dentistry calls for “urgent and fundamental reform” and said there was evidence of pain and distress that is “totally unacceptable in the 21st century”.

The document cites a YouGov poll of 2,104 people across the UK conducted in March 2023.

It found 10 per cent of people admitted to attempting “DIY dentistry”. More than half (56 per cent) of the group carried it out in the last year and 20 per cent said they did so because they could not find an NHS dentist.

Labour MP Mrs Hollern said: “For too long, dentistry has been treated as an optional extra and the people of Blackburn are now paying the price of year-on-year budget cuts.

“Since 2010, funding for dental services in England has fallen by eight per cent in real terms, with the number of NHS practices falling by more than 1,200 in the five years prior to the pandemic.

"In 2021 alone, 2,000 dentists quit the NHS with many voicing concerns that they feel undervalued and under-resourced.”

In 2021, 51 per cent of five-year-olds in the borough had some form of tooth decay - the highest rate in the country.

The latest figures from the National Dental Epidemiology Programme show this has fallen to 40 per cent.

This means the borough has fallen to fifth in the league of child tooth decay shame.

Mrs Hollern said we need to “build an NHS fit for the future”. She added: “As part of the Blackburn with Darwen Oral Health Improvement Partnership Strategy, there has been an 11 per cent reduction in tooth decay over the past 12 months.

“Significant improvements have been made in oral health standards, and I applaud the work being carried out in Blackburn with Darwen, but more action is needed at Government level, to continue this upwards trend.

“In order to improve patient access and support the future of NHS dentistry, we must build an NHS fit for the future.

"We must provide it with the staff, technology, resources, and reform it so vitally needs.

“As part of a wider, 10-year plan for change and modernisation, this must include tackling the problems with the NHS dental contract, so it delivers for patients and staff, prioritising prevention of poor oral health and cutting oral health inequalities.

“Children and vulnerable adults will be at the heart of these proposals, ensuring close links are established with primary care and community care, including GPs and health visitors.”

Peter Tinson, director of primary care for Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), said: “Unfortunately, locally and nationally there are challenges in accessing NHS dental care. We are working to improve access but acknowledge that in some areas patients are finding it difficult to access routine NHS dental care.

“The NHS last year announced the first reforms to dentistry services since 2006, which aim to support practices to improve access and ensure everyone seeking NHS dental care can receive it when they need it.

“The ICB has recently launched its dental access and oral health improvement programme to improve access to primary care dental services in the high street and to improve oral health.

“The programme will prioritise the areas with the greatest need for dental access and oral health support, aiming to reduce inequalities in dental access and oral health across Lancashire and South Cumbria.

“One of the ways access to dental services has already been improved is through the launching of a phone line which guarantees urgent NHS dental support to anyone who needs it.

“This service is available by calling 0300 1234 010 (standard local telephone charges apply).”

Have you struggled to find a dentist or been forced to resort to ‘DIY dentistry’? Send your story to: sarah.mcgee@newsquest.co.uk.