Student dentists could be drafted in and six monthly check-ups scrapped to help tackle Halton’s 'diabolical' NHS dental crisis.

A meeting of Halton Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board on Wednesday was told the borough is currently the 'eighth worst' area in the country for lack of access to NHS dentists, a situation largely unchanged in the past year. Members were told the situation was so dire, some people had resorted to payday loans to fund private treatment.

The meeting at the DCBL Stadium in Widnes was told there is currently a national crisis in NHS dentistry, prompted by Covid backlogs and more dentists ditching NHS work for private practice. Issues around how NHS dental contracts work have also been blamed.

A report to the board by health advocacy group Healthwatch Halton found just over a third of Halton adults (37.5%) had seen an NHS dentist in the past two years, which was lower than elsewhere in the country and lower than every other area in Cheshire and Merseyside with the exception of Liverpool.

Incidents reported by patients included one person having to pull out their own wisdom tooth and being left in agony, while another had to buy fillings from Amazon. Another said they were forced to make 100 mile round-trips to their old dentist in Lancashire.

In a presentation to members, Healthwatch Halton chair Kath Parker said there needed to be 'targeted action' to get access in Halton back up to at least the national average, as the borough was still ‘well below’.

Committee member Cllr Bill Woolfall called on health chiefs to take action, he said: “I brought this to the attention of the board well over a year ago and everyone knew there were problems with NHS dentists, particularly in Halton. Halton of all the areas in England is the eighth worst off and we haven’t moved on."

He told the committee he recently had to fork out £800 to see a private dentist for one tooth after being unable to get an appointment, but said not everyone could afford to do so.

He added: "There is something that has to be done. We can’t be sitting here in 12 months’ time and people saying we have a problem in Halton with people having access to an NHS dentist."

Cllr Tom McInerney described the situation as ‘diabolical’ and said a big problem was people being de-registered from NHS dentists because they had not attended for two years - even though practices were closed for non emergency work during Covid.

He added: "Another part of the picture that depresses me is just 46% of our children went to a dentist last year, only 46%."

Tom Knight, Head of Primary Care NHS England North West, told the board a number of measures were being taken around commissioning and some working practices, as well as a renewed focus on prevention. But warned that restoring dental services would take months 'if not years'.

He said this could involve deploying undergraduate and postgraduate students, and expanding the scope of work done by dental therapists to free up dentists’ time.

He added regular check-ups could also be scrapped.

He said: "We want to support personalised recall dental practice. Practices should no longer be recalling every patient in the books just for a routine check-up. And the nice guidance that says that's not necessarily, we need the right patient being called in at the right time."