A pensioner staged a one-man protest outside a dentist practice after he could not access free treatment.

Peter Hewitt, 76, demonstrated outside Beech House Smile Clinic in Dereham as he believes they owe it to locals to provide an NHS dentist for pensioners to access free dental treatment.

The dentist's CEO said it "appreciates the concerns raised by the protesting patient" and said it was "actively working towards solutions that will benefit everyone."

Mr Hewitt said he has been visiting the dentist for “the past 15 years as an NHS patient” but claims the practice does not currently have an NHS dentist on site.

He wants to get teeth fillings replaced after they fell out.

 But instead of being able to access the free treatment, due to the fact he claims pensioner credit, he was offered the chance to pay but cannot afford it.

“I’m not happy with them as I feel they are not doing enough for the NHS patients, they should care for us,” he said.

“If I do not get my teeth sorted, I am going to be in trouble, right now I’m not struggling to eat or drink, or in any sort of pain. Within the next few months, these teeth will start to go bad, and I will have a health problem.

“I do not want to be pulling my teeth out with a pair of pliers.”

In January 2023,  Beech House, based in Dereham High Street, said it had been trying to recruit an NHS dentist for the past two years "without success", with the contract of its last NHS dentist coming to an end in the previous August.

Dereham Times: Peter Hewitt from Dereham was outside Beech House Smile Clinic protesting Peter Hewitt from Dereham was outside Beech House Smile Clinic protesting (Image: Supplied)

The 76-year-old added that if he were to go onto the private program, he would lose his NHS status and no longer be accepted for free dental treatment anywhere.

In reply to the protest, Dr Jin Vaghela, CEO and founder of Smile Clinic Group, said: "A patient protested outside Beech House Smile Clinic in Dereham, holding a sign expressing concerns about the provision of NHS dental services.

"It is essential to address these concerns and clarify our commitment to providing quality dental care to all patients, regardless of their payment method.

“Despite our best efforts, the current funding model often falls short of covering the costs associated with delivering NHS dental treatments.

"This financial strain forces us to consider alternative models to ensure the sustainability of our practice while still providing accessible dental care to our local community.

“We want to emphasise that our commitment to NHS dentistry remains unwavering. However, the reality is that without significant reforms to the NHS dental contract, many practices, including ours, may struggle to continue offering NHS services due to recruitment issues. 

“We appreciate the concerns raised by the protesting patient and want to assure them and our entire community that we are actively working towards solutions that will benefit everyone."

“We are actively exploring all available options to address these challenges and continue serving our patients to the best of our ability.

“Our priority is to ensure that our patients have access to the dental care they need, whether through NHS or private services.

"We remain dedicated to delivering the highest quality dental care, and we urge the government to take decisive action to support the dental profession and secure the future of NHS dentistry.

Dereham Times: Beech House Smile Clinic in DerehamBeech House Smile Clinic in Dereham (Image: Newsquest)

"We are actively recruiting NHS dentists and collaborating closely with NHS Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System (ICB) for support. 

"We firmly believe that NHS contract reform is paramount to the future of NHS dentistry."

Mr Hewitt added that he has looked around other practices in the county but is struggling to find anywhere taking on new patients.

He said while outside the dental practice he received support for his demonstration, with people “honking their horns, people shaking my hands, and giving me a thumbs up".

The Norfolk and Waveney area has the largest ratio of NHS dentists for patients, with one for every 2,776 people, and some of the highest rates of dental problems.

Despite the scale of the crisis, a recent analysis showed that a total of £17m - more than a quarter of Norfolk and Waveney's allocated NHS dental funding - is not being used this year.