A Norfolk dental surgery has put its recent struggles down to the impact of Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and the government changing "how NHS dentists get paid". 

Beech House, based in Dereham High Street, said it had been trying to recruit an NHS dentist for the past two years "without success".

The contract of its last NHS dentist came to an end in August. 

Dereham Times: Beech House dental surgery in DerehamBeech House dental surgery in Dereham (Image: Newsquest)

And, in an email sent to patients, the practice revealed it would not be able to provide locum emergency cover for the next two weeks. 

Dentistry in the UK has reached crisis point in recent months, with hundreds of surgeries unable to offer non-emergency appointments and take on new patients. 

Patient watchdog Healthwatch Norfolk called the situation at Beech House "particularly acute", while NHS England said it was working closely with the practice to "improve access to services in the area".

In its lengthy email, Beech House said: "Due to national dentist shortages, we currently have no permanent NHS dentists available, so cannot book any routine care.

"We are doing everything we can to resolve these issues and recruit NHS locum cover for emergencies."

READ MORE: Norfolk's NHS dentists shortage revealed in new map

Dereham Times: Dentistry in the UK has reached crisis point in recent monthsDentistry in the UK has reached crisis point in recent months (Image: PA)

Advising concerned patients, the email added: "It is a case of calling at the start of the week to see if we have any availability; these [cases] will be triaged on excessive pain, tooth trauma and swelling.

"We will not be able to book any appointments with locums other than these triage cases. All home remedies should be attempted prior."

A spokesman for the NHS in the East of England said urgent and emergency dental care was "available for anyone who needs it", emphasising that people should contact their dentist in the first instance, or seek advice from NHS 111 online.

Detailing reasons for the shortage of dentists across the country, Beech House said "a few factors" were to blame.

It revealed dentists were handing back their NHS provider numbers - which allows them to provide NHS appointments - due to changes in the way they are paid. 

The email continued: "Brexit: Many dentists that fell into the European bracket had to hand back their NHS provider number when we left the EU, taking a big chunk of qualified NHS dentists with it.

Dereham Times: Beech House dental practice, in Dereham, is struggling to find locum emergency coverBeech House dental practice, in Dereham, is struggling to find locum emergency cover (Image: Newsquest)

"Covid: Thousands of patients have not been seen for routine examinations and the backlog is so severe that qualifying dentists do not want to register under these conditions.

"The government changed how NHS dentists get paid. If you are seen for an exam and need one filling or 10 fillings, the dentist is paid the same.

"Due to this, most NHS dentists have handed back their provider numbers."

The NHS spokesman said reforms had been introduced last year to help dental teams carry out more treatments.

Among the aims at the time was to ensure NHS dentists were paid more for treating more complex cases.

READ MORE: Calls for school dentists to be reintroduced in Norfolk

Dereham Times: Reforms were introduced in 2022 to help dental teams carry out more treatmentsReforms were introduced in 2022 to help dental teams carry out more treatments (Image: PA)

Closing its message, Beech House recommended that patients direct their frustrations to George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, due to the situation being "out of our control".

It added: "We also kindly remind patients to treat all our staff with kindness and respect."

Healthwatch Norfolk, which ensures the voices of patients are heard by NHS leaders, said access to non-emergency dental care accounted for around half the feedback it received.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of the watchdog, added: "The situation around Beech House is particularly acute and we will be following this up with NHS England.

"Healthwatch Norfolk has already shared data around issues in the county with NHS England, the Integrated Care System which oversees health and social care, and the county’s MPs - particularly around the non-availability of care.

Dereham Times: Alex Stewart, chief executive at Healthwatch NorfolkAlex Stewart, chief executive at Healthwatch Norfolk (Image: Healthwatch Norfolk)

"We continue to press for NHS contracts to be put in place as quickly as possible for dentists who want to open practices or extend their lists.

"Additionally, every effort should be made to attract permanent NHS dentists to Norfolk and ensure there is future dental school provision to benefit patients of all ages."

The NHS spokesman added: "We are committed to ensuring everyone in Norfolk is able to get high-quality dental care. We are working closely with Beech House, as well as Healthwatch Norfolk, to support the practice.

“NHS dental staff across the region are working hard to clear through backlogs that built up during the pandemic."