THERE are nearly 400 urgent NHS dental appointments available across Gwent every week – but more than a quarter are not used, according to health chiefs. 

Bosses from the Aneurin Bevan Health Board heard complaints about the availability of dental care when they faced Monmouthshire council’s public services scrutiny committee. 

Lloyd Hambridge, the board’s divisional director for primary care and community services, said there are 370 urgent care dental appointments available across the health board every week, but 26 per cent of those aren’t taken up, though in Monmouthshire that figure drops to 16 per cent. 

Mr Hambridge said patients can get appointments through the NHS 111 phone service and the board is looking at how it could “improve the pathway” for people to access treatment. 

It commissions dental services at 80 practices across the five Gwent council areas, including 13 in Monmouthshire, but a backlog due to the pandemic, when enhanced safety and cleaning measures meant fewer appointments could be carried out, is still having an impact. 

The board doesn’t hold waiting lists of patients seeking a dentist but Mr Hambridge said practices do.

“The benefit of that is that is they are able to identify any capacity with appointments and contact patients, in a central system there would be potential for delays,” he said. 

He added, however, a Senedd inquiry into dental services had recommended the consideration of central waiting list across Wales. 

Welsh dental contracts were negotiated in 2006 and ongoing talks on new contracts are prioritising patients most in need rather than “frequent check ups for those who don’t need them,” he said.

Caldicot West End Labour councillor Jill Bond said her dentist, and others, were handing back NHS contracts as they didn’t only want to perform emergency work. 

Mr Hambridge also said patients affected by the closure of a dental surgery in Caldicot had been able to to be accommodated by other local practices with spare capacity in response to a question from Chepstow Labour councillor Dake Rooke. 

But Labour member Peter Strong said he was a “bit bemused by that” as he said he said children from Caldicot and his Rogiet ward were having to travel to Monmouth to see a dentist. 

“There is no direct bus, it’s just not realistic and takes forever to get there,” said the councillor, who asked if dental services could be provided at Chepstow Community Hospital, which prompted committee chair Cllr Armand Watts to correct him and say there is a dental service at the hospital. 

Mr Hambridge said the board hadn’t received comments about travelling to access a dentist and health board chief executive Nicola Prygodzicz said a written briefing will be provided to councillors of what services are available and which practices have capacity for new patients. 

Raglan Conservative Penny Jones said she was concerned that children in the care system, and their foster parents, are unable to secure dental appointments, and suggested places should be reserved at practices for them, though Mr Hambridge said there is capacity to treat patients. 

Councillors were also told Health Education and Improvement Wales, the NHS workforce body, is currently conducting a broad review into how the health service recruits and trains staff and has a specific review into dentistry. Mr Hambridge said he was “sure” it would welcome comments from the council after Labour member Cllr Watts asked about overseas recruitment and the impact of Brexit.