- State-subsidized appointments and treatments are harder to find
- Patient says costs are much lower abroad, even with flights
- Companies say overseas treatments are growing rapidly
- Industry body highlights COVID backlog, payment structure
- The government plans 40% more dental training places
LONDON/ISTANBUL, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Once Marion Parks discovered she needed intensive dental care, the 55-year-old decided the best solution was to leave her small English village to have dental work done. implants, in Istanbul.
Parks is one of thousands of Britons heading abroad for dental treatment. Whereas they once traveled for cosmetic work to achieve the perfect smile, many are now turning to basic dental care that they say they cannot get in Britain.
“It’s just a sign of the times,” she told Reuters from her home in eastern England before the trip. “It’s a bit sad. »
Known as the butt of jokes about bad teeth, Britain suffers from a shortage of dentists, ranking third among the 22 richest OECD countries in terms of access in 2021.
Problems with the government funding system have made the problem worse, meaning millions of people cannot access a low-cost dentist under the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
With the cost of private dental care prohibitive for many, the crisis has added to the sense of unease in Britain, where a valuable national institution like the NHS is in ongoing crisis, with staff on strike and the cost of living soaring.
A parliamentary report published in July said that in extreme cases people were pulling teeth, which it called “completely unacceptable in the 21st century”. Charities warn that other illnesses will go unnoticed without regular access to dental care.
“I feel sorry for the people who are suffering in the UK,” Parks told Reuters as she arrived in Istanbul to have a tooth removed and two implants put in, paying a fifth of the cost quoted by a private British clinic . .
There are no official statistics on dental tourism in Britain, but interviews with six businesses in the highly fragmented sector show that dental tourism in the UK is either at record levels for these businesses or growing rapidly.
Parks’ Tower dental clinic in Istanbul has treated more than 500 British patients this year, up from 200 in 2022, and it expects this figure to continue to grow, helped in part by the weakness of the Turkish lira.
Other dental companies operating in Turkey, Hungary and Romania said they were seeing strong demand in the UK.
Medical Travel Market, a UK-based consultancy, received more than 1,500 inquiries through mid-November this year, an increase of more than 450% compared to 2022. Dental Implants Abroad says it has served a record number of Brits in 2023, helping “hundreds” travel. in Romania to get dental implants.
Dental Departures, which claims to be the world’s largest dental tourism company by revenue, expects bookings from Britain to jump 15% to a record high in 2023. And Dent Royal expects to have booked 600 UK patients in the Turkish seaside city of Izmir in 2023. 2023, up from 350 last year.
Eddie Crouch, president of the British Dental Association, told Reuters that the closure of UK clinics during COVID lockdowns had created a huge backlog and people were no longer just going abroad for cosmetic work.
“Now, anecdotally, I hear that many patients are going overseas just to access general dental care,” he said.
Vedat Etemoglu, who runs the Tower Dental clinic used by Parks, said there was a “staggering difference” between Turkish and British dental bills, when an NHS dentist is not available.
In his case, Parks has an NHS dentist, but the service only provides implants in rare cases – such as when a patient has had oral cancer – due to cost. “Implants are usually only available privately and are expensive,” the NHS website says.
A private British clinic offered her 5,000 pounds ($6,290) for two implants, unlike in Turkey where she will pay 923 pounds ($1,160) for treatment including extraction. The bill includes the cost of accommodation. The flight costs less than 200 pounds ($250).
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Industry body BDA says the UK system is no longer working due to a dental contract introduced by the government in 2006.
It states that the payment structure does not discriminate between the complexity of treatments. As a result, many dental practices are operating at a loss and supplementing NHS income with private work. Many are not accepting new NHS clients. Some simply leave the service, reducing access for patients.
“We have a contract that is not fit for purpose,” said BDA’s Crouch. “We have a workforce that is leaving in large numbers. » It estimates that 12 million people are unable to access an NHS dentist.
Parliament’s health committee said contract reform was essential. The government did not comment on the deal but said it was making progress and would “shortly” bring forward measures to improve access to NHS dental care.
A spokesperson said 1.7 million more adults and 800,000 children were receiving dental care from the NHS compared to last year.
The spokesperson also highlighted plans announced this year to increase dental training places by 40%. Critics said hiring more dentists without reforming the dental contract would accomplish nothing.
For Parks, she plans to return to Istanbul in April to continue her treatment. She said going abroad had been a “no-brainer” and she had been very impressed with the service.
“It was exceptional,” she said while walking the streets of Istanbul two days after the procedure. “It was a very enriching experience. »
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Additional reporting by Ceyda Caglayan in Istanbul and Ben Makori and Gerhard Mey in London; Editing by Kate Holton and Alison Williams
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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Sachin Ravikumar is Reuters’ London correspondent covering general news in the United Kingdom. During nine years at Reuters, he helped lead various breaking news teams, reported on business and general news in India and worked as an editor.
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