Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Appalling State of NHS Dentistry: a personal story

This story both illustrates the shameful state of NHS dental care under a 'Labour' government, and explains why I haven't blogged for about a week.

My son Joe had an accident at school last Tuesday morning. Being chased round the playground, he tripped and fell, his shoulder and mouth hitting the side of a concrete bench with considerable impact. His front right tooth was bent back what looked like about 30 degrees, slightly fracturing his upper jaw.

Joe is six. The tooth is a adult tooth, less than a year old.

Having fetched him from school, we phoned our dental surgery. No, there is no dentist available to see Joe. We should go to the emergency dental clinic at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, in the evening. So I took Joe.

We arrived at 6pm for a clinic that opened at 7pm, and there were already half a dozen people queueing outside. By 7, there were maybe forty. But there was only one dentist on duty, so only the first ten got in, everyone else sent home with a phone number to ring. I got one of those ten tickets on the basis of being one of the first ten arrivals and shouting very loudly about my six-year-old son and his serious injury.

We got priority to see the dentist, and Joe made him check his toy dinosaurs' teeth before he would get in the chair - which would all have been very amusing were it not for what happened next. Joe needed the tooth straightening - an agonising procedure - but the clinic had no sedative for children. Yes, you read that right: no sedative for children. They tried to do it on injections only, and Joe did his best and bravest to tolerate it, but he couldn't, and after several efforts, the treatment was abandoned and we went home with instructions to attend the dental hospital at 8 the next morning.

So my partner took Joe at 7am to ensure he was seen a quickly as possible. He eventually saw the dentist at around 11.30am, about 25 hours after the accident. Her assessment? "The first 24 hours are crucial."

It seems that had Joe got proper dental care within those crucial 24 hours, they could have sedated him, straightened the tooth and very probably saved it. As it is, the tooth has been partially straightened, but we will not know whether it will survive for several weeks, even months. He could lose a permenant front tooth, and have a hole in the smile on his beautiful face until they can make him a falsie as an adult. Even if the tooth survives, Joe faces months and years of treatment, including very likely wearing a brace next year.

He has been off school since, developed an infection this weekend, had to go back to hospital and is now on antibiotics as well as painkillers. He has a follow-up appointment on Wednesday and will need regular follow-ups thereafter.

And all because the 'Labour' government would rather see any additional money it puts into the NHS siphoned off by privateers rather than go into patient care. It makes me sick.