Healthwatch East Sussex Seeks Robust Information Standards for Dental Practices

September 9, 2020

9th September 2020


A recent review of dental practice websites and out-of-hours phone messages in East Sussex has identified a wide variation in the information and advice available to patients and the public. This is set out in a report released today by Healthwatch East Sussex.

It clearly shows that whilst a majority are efficient and pro-active in providing up-to-date and accessible information, there is room for improvement across the board.

During the suspension of routine dentistry between March and June, Healthwatch East Sussex found that:

  • A quarter of reviewed dental practice websites had no up-to-date information on changes to services brought about by Covid-19.
  • Half of dental practices websites didn’t clearly state that routine dentistry services were suspended, but that phone advice was available.
  • Half of the websites reviewed provided little or no information as to how to  access urgent or emergency dental treatment during the lockdown.

A second review following the re-starting of routine dentistry in June found that: 

  • Almost a fifth of reviewed dental practice websites still had no up-to-date information on the services they were offering after the lockdown.
  • Four out of ten websites displayed neither Emergency Dental Service nor NHS 111 contact details for those seeking assistance.
  • Four out of ten phone messages didn’t include up-to-date details for the Emergency Dental Service which provides out-of-hours cover for urgent dental problems.

In addition to these Covid-19 aspects were wider issues around the availability of information on NHS charges, accessibility, and clarity on the NHS or private services offered by each practice.

This research was prompted by feedback and responses to the Healthwatch East Sussex Covid-19 survey citing concerns about access to dental services. People reported being unable to get clear information on how and where to get help, with some resorting to ‘DIY dentistry’ in extreme cases.

Research activities took place between May and July 2020, with Healthwatch East Sussex using a ‘Mystery Shopping’ approach to systematically review the websites and phone service messages of approximately 50 dental practices. Emergency Dental Service (EDS) clinics in East Sussex and neighbouring counties were also reviewed.

The purpose was to find out if the changes to routine and emergency dental provision caused by the Covid-19 lockdown were being communicated effectively to the public. Had websites and phone messages been updated? Did they provide the most useful information to someone with a dental problem? Was the information clear and accessible?

The findings of this review of dental services reinforce those from Healthwatch East Sussex’s ‘Knowing the Drill Report 2020’ which examined dental care provision in the High Weald area of East Sussex. This report also identified issues around the accuracy and accessibility of website and phone information provided by dental practices.

Kate Richmond, Healthwatch East Sussex’s lead on dentistry, commented: 

“The frequent changes to guidance by Government, often at short notice, has been an issue across a number of service areas and we are aware of its impact on dentists and dental services. However, keeping patients and the public informed is vitally important. 

A lack of basic information, especially appropriate signposting to out-of-hours and emergency support, contributes to greater patient uncertainty and anxiety. This is particularly problematic during periods such as the Covid-19 lockdown when mainstream dentistry services were suspended. 

We will bring these findings to the attention of NHS commissioners and to the practices themselves, and seek to work constructively with them to improve the quality of the information that patients and the public receive and have access to.”

Healthwatch East Sussex will share this review and its recommendations with dental care commissioners and providers to explore whether core information standards can be agreed and applied to all dental practice websites and phone messages.

The report will also be shared with Healthwatch in West Sussex and Brighton & Hove to help build a Sussex-wide picture of dentistry.

Download the report

For media enquiries, please contact:

Kate Richmond

Dentistry Project Lead, Healthwatch East Sussex

07909 253678

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