Dozens of desperate patients queuing to register with a newly-opened NHS dental practice were today turned away — because it has already run out of space.
In scenes illustrating the appointments crisis plaguing the country, hundreds lined up outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice in Bristol on Monday and Tuesday in the hope of securing a spot on their books.
Elderly and disabled people were among the crowd who gathered in the rain from as early as 5am.
Shocking aerial pictures showed the extent of the queues, which were described by a local news website as being ‘reminiscent of Soviet-era Eastern Europe’.
More patients longing for an NHS dentist turned up today but were met with a sign on the door saying: ‘We are not enrolling anymore patients.’
In scenes illustrating the appointments crisis plaguing the country, hundreds lined up outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice in Bristol on Monday and Tuesday in the hope of securing a spot on their books. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning
More patients longing for an NHS dentist turned up today but were met with a sign on the door saying: ‘We are not enrolling anymore patients.’ Pictured, the sign outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning
Patients were left angry and frustrated at the ‘chaotic’ queuing system outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice, which saw a ticketing system set-up in an attempt to control the chaos. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning
Practice coordinator Shivani Bhandari said: ‘We didn’t expect queues like we’ve seen over the last two days. Pictured, the line of people yesterday outside of Saint Pauls Dental Practice, in St Paul’s, Bristol, which police were forced to break up
The notice added: ‘We are now only seeing the patients who have been booked an appointment.
‘Please do not queue up. We will only let in patients who can confirm their name and appointment time for today.’
Patients were left angry and frustrated at the ‘chaotic’ queuing system outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice, which saw a ticketing system set-up in an attempt to control the chaos.
But it didn’t stop people pushing in at the front to cries of ‘get to the back’.
Police were also forced to turn some patients away earlier in the week, cutting off a line which snaked hundreds of metres.
Account manager Hakim Mohamed, 27, said: ‘The way this has been organised is chaotic. People have been queuing around the corner since five in the morning.
‘A lot of people have to work so can’t get in the queue — the whole thing has been mismanaged.
‘To have people queuing up all day long in the high street in this weather doesn’t work.’
More than 1,300 people are believed to have been registered at Saint Pauls Dental Practice since it opened on Monday morning.
Despite the note on its door, the practice last night told MailOnline it did have space to register more patients.
Practice coordinator Shivani Bhandari said: ‘We didn’t expect queues like we’ve seen over the last two days.
‘We feel bad about it, we don’t want people to queue up, it’s not the way.
‘We had some people coming in trying to register themselves and 12 members of their family, their mother-in-law, father-in-law, all sorts of relatives. We had to stop that.’
She added: ‘But we have more places and we want to be able to treat everyone in this community on the NHS.’
The crisis in NHS dentistry has been brewing for years, with some Brits forced to pull out their own teeth with pliers or travel abroad to see a dentist due to a lack of slots in the UK.
One even travelled to war-stricken Ukraine because it ended up being half the price of paying privately.
Over the years, patients have been told of year-long waits for getting a check-up on the NHS.
One grandmother in the queue outside the newly-opened Bristol surgery revealed her six-year-old grandson has ‘never’ been able to see an NHS dentist.
Penelope Cannell said: ‘I’ve been trying to get my grandson registered.
‘He is now six years old and has never been able to see an NHS dentist. It has been impossible. I really hope it is worth the wait.’
She added: ‘We [were] fully expecting a queue but not quite like this.
‘We were all laughing and getting ready then saw the queue and couldn’t believe it.
‘It just shows what is going on with the NHS and the lengths people have to go to.’
Elderly and disabled people were among the crowd who gathered in the rain from as early as 5am. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning
More than 1,300 people are believed to have been registered at Saint Pauls Dental Practice since it opened on Monday morning. Pictured, patients outside St Pauls Dental Practice this morning
Meanwhile, a man in his late sixties said locals have waited ‘years’ for an NHS dentist and are ‘prepared to wait a few hours to finally get one’ — but acknowledged that the situation was ‘ridiculous’.
Outside the practice yesterday, Barbara Cook, a mother-of-two, said: ‘I haven’t seen a dentist for five years so I have registered here today and I’m booked for an examination in April.’
Mother-of-three Ashleigh Andrews-Reid, 33, tried to register on Monday but missed out on a ticket. Speaking yesterday, she added: ‘I’ve come again this afternoon and stood in the rain for a while with two of my children. It was worth it – we now have a dentist.’
Father-of-four Nasir Osman, 39, a taxi driver, said: ‘It has been very frustrating. I have been struggling to find a nearby NHS dentist for my children aged between one and 12.
‘Their teeth are very important but it is very expensive if they go privately. I don’t mind paying privately for myself.’
The practice is advising people to go onto its Facebook page which gives details about how to register by email or online.
The surgery was previously run by Bupa Dental Care and some people who queued up were loyal patients who were let down when the company shut its doors last summer.
A campaign to reopen the dentists was set up and people from St Pauls began daily protests outside the building which belongs to a housing association.
The campaigners – called the Dental Action Group – persuaded Bupa to leave the expensive dentistry equipment inside in the hope that someone would take over.
Meanwhile, a dentist at the surgery claimed she could make more money working privately but ‘would rather do this’.
Oral surgeon Dr Gauri Pradhan said she hoped the Bristol practice would act as a ‘model for other surgeries’.
Nationwide, only a fifth of practices are thought to be accepting new patients, forcing Brits to fork out for private care, go without or perform dangerous DIY dentistry.
Dr Pradhan told MailOnline: ‘There is a crisis in dental care across the country but we believe we can be a model for other surgeries to open up.
‘I know I could make more money in private dentistry but I would rather do this.’
She added: ‘Bupa closed last year saying the practice was not sustainable. The fact that 1,300 people have queued up to register proves them wrong.’
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who stood outside the Saint Pauls Dental Practice this morning, told BBC Breakfast: ‘It has just gone quarter past seven and there is already a queue of people.
‘Those people have been told that the practice isn’t enrolling new patients today.
‘But people are still queuing already on a very cold morning because they are desperate.
‘I have spoken to one woman who had to go private to get some emergency dental work – a bit of patching up with a temporary filling – she’s desperate now to get into this NHS dentists’ because otherwise she’s going to be hit with a bill of potentially thousands of pounds that she can’t afford.
Yesterday, desperate Brits were again pictured queuing outside a newly-opened NHS dental surgery in Bristol for the second day running. Video shows hundreds of people, including children and the elderly, queuing in the wind and rain outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice, with some using walking sticks for to stand in line, while others seemed to have brought along their own chairs
This chart shows the number of dentists who carried out NHS activity each year, the figure dropped sharply during the Covid pandemic but has slightly recovered to just over 24,000 according to the latest data
‘I spoke to another man who has been waiting three years without a dentist.’
Meanwhile, Eddie Crouch, British Dental Association chairman, said that queues for NHS dentistry would be repeated elsewhere due to the demand for health service dental care.
He added: ‘There are towns across this country where any new practice opening would see a repeat of scenes we saw in Bristol.
‘The police might want to thank the Government that budgets are so tight we won’t be seeing many grand openings any time soon.’
Yesterday, officers implemented a cutoff point part-way through the queue, telling those behind they would need to return and try their luck again another day.
NHS dentistry has been in crisis for years, with leaders claiming the sector has been chronically underfunded, making it financially unviable to carry out treatments.
Exacerbating the problem is that, as more dentists leave the NHS, those that remain become swamped by more and more patients.
Some patients have even resorted to DIY dentistry, using pliers to remove rotting or painful teeth at home, after failing to get NHS appointments.
Private clinics can charge up to £75 for an appointment, with fillings, cleans and X-rays carrying extra fees.
Those queuing outside the new dental clinic are not the only ones struggling to access affordable dental care in the UK.
An official survey recently revealed a quarter of adults have delayed dental care or treatment because of the cost.
Overall, 18.1million adults saw their dentist in the two years to June 2023, up from 16.4million in the 24 months to June 2022. But it is still well below the 21million seen in the two years to June 2020
One in three also said the cost of dentistry has affected the type of care or treatment they go on to have, while a quarter fail to brush their teeth at least twice a day.
Data for the South West of England, where Bristol is located, had one of the lowest rates of people who had seen an NHS dentist within the last two years, at just 39.6 per cent.
The Government today unveiled its long-awaited NHS dental recovery plan, described as ‘putting NHS dentistry on a sustainable footing’.
Under Rishi Sunak’s bold blueprint to fix the appointments crisis plaguing millions, dentists will be offered up to £50 to see patients who haven’t had a check-up in the last two years.
Up to 240 dentists willing to relocate to ‘dental deserts’ will also be paid a £20,000 ‘golden hello’.
But the plan — unveiled 10 months after it was promised — was slammed by dental bosses and politicians for not going far enough, with one saying that it amounted to ‘rearranging the deckchairs’.
Health leaders instead called for ‘radical reform’ of the dental contract, accusing Mr Sunak of U-turning on his pledge to restore the crippled industry.