Nearest NHS dentist in Huddersfield and still no climate talk to sink teeth into

My deepest apologies for the pun. September’s Health Scrutiny Meeting addressed, among other things, our dental services. Of the committee meetings I’ve been to, this was the closest I’ve seen to a post-COVID committee meeting, with a short COVID update and more agenda points than I’ve ever seen before.

I’m not a healthcare professional. I’m not even registered at a dentist (and at this meeting I found out that I’d have to go to Huddersfield to register for an NHS one). These meetings, whilst admittedly a little dry at times, have become a fascinating insight into the healthcare system in Manchester and the UK at large. However, I am attending every meeting still holding out hope that we’ll get to look at the growing need for climate adaptation in our health and social care systems before it becomes a crisis. Unsurprisingly this meeting is not that meeting.

Next month’s committee meeting will be a single item agenda focussing on health inequalities. That is very relevant to climate change, with climate change exacerbating existing health inequalities. It is worth reaching out to your councillor to highlight these connections if they are on the Health Scrutiny Meeting (membership here).  You could use last year’s CCC report on sustainable health equity as a starting point.

What the meeting covered

The meeting started with the usual appeals, minutes and interests.  We then went on into the COVID-19 and vaccination programme. Some headlines here include that Manchester has dropped to 189th highest rate of COVID-19 in local authority rankings, which is a great sign that enhanced response zones from the past few months have been hugely successful. Given that Manchester is such a major University city and both schools and Universities are returning this month, the rate is likely to increase significantly in the next weeks. There are still COVID deaths in Manchester, with eight deaths in the week before the meeting. This rate is much better than it would be without the vaccine programme, but we will continue to see COVID deaths due to the high rate of cases. The vaccination programme continues as well, with particular progress on pregnancy vaccinations now that guidance has changed to encourage and prioritise vaccinations for pregnant people.

The next item was about access to General Practice in Manchester. I did not realise how much Manchester’s GP practices are struggling until this report, with staff shortages and rising pressure on resources among the issues that they are experiencing. This report explained some of the ways of dealing with increased demand and reduced capacity due to COVID, such as self help at home for certain issues and triaging through automated or manual systems. There were some great bits of scrutiny here, most notably from Cllr Cooley who spoke from personal experience of being an older person to highlight ageist language and to ask about alternative pathways to treatment that are more tailored for older people. This meeting did not have any patients speaking but patient perspectives were provided by Healthwatch, who highlighted accessibility issues with GP websites across Manchester.

Following this, the next item was the Health and Social Care Recovery from COVID-19, which highlighted another struggling part of the health system. Broadly speaking for each of these systems, these are structural issues handed down through cuts at a national level. The health and social care system was challenged before COVID-19, and has only become more challenged. Cllr Hussain pointed out a lack of diversity in leadership across Manchester hospital, with no South Asian people on the board. Diversity Action Plans will now be brought to the committee at some point.

The final and perhaps most heavily scrutinised item was on the provision and access to NHS dentistry. As the chair Cllr Green pointed out, if we were to design the NHS dentistry system from scratch, it would not look how it does today. The dental system is designed to accommodate for 60% of the population to have access to NHS dentistry. Healthwatch highlighted that the nearest place taking on NHS dental patients is Huddersfield. The questions on this piece, including from Cllr Hussein, Cllr Cooley and Cllr Leech, were critical and in depth but not well addressed. Ultimately, this is a deeply structural issue which must be addressed at a national level. It’s not a good system for dentists or dental nurses, with a survey showing that 47% of dentists are considering quitting or retiring in the next 12 months and morale at a low ebb. The councillors resolved to lobby for changes to be made at a national level. With that, the meeting was drawn to a close.

This report is produced by Hannah for Team Scrutiny Fabulous, for which we are recruiting volunteers. If you’d like to help with Team Scrutiny, then contact us by email (contact@climateemergencymanchester.net) and we will discuss options for getting (more) involved. 

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