Ukrainians who have moved to the UK have highlighted the lack of dentists as among the most astonishing aspects of British life, according to a report on the experiences of people granted humanitarian visas.
Access to medical care is free of charge on the NHS for Ukrainians, but researchers at Birmingham University heard notably outspoken accounts about the difficulty of securing dental treatment.
The provision of dentistry services under the NHS was even negatively compared with that in Ukraine, which was a popular destination for dental care tourists before the war thanks to low charges and good availability.
One woman in her 30s, Boyka, told the researchers: “We don’t have a dentist. It’s crazy. For us, it’s, like, impossible! In Ukraine the dentist industry is huge, you know, everywhere, and because it’s everywhere you just go and it’s like £10, £8, and you can clean it, whiten it like [a] Hollywood smile!
“When you have some more problems, with£2,000 you have all-new teeth, from scratch! Here, we came: ‘Can we?’ ‘No, no, no, we are full.’”
Some British families who have taken in Ukrainian refugees have noted that their guests organise dental appointments during their visits home.
A BBC survey last year found that 90% of dental practices in the UK were refusing new adult patients. Government data indicates that unmet need for NHS dentistry in England is at a record high: 12 million people, or one in four of the adult population, are going without.
As appointments become ever harder to find, a member of the public spoken to by Healthwatch England, a committee of the Care Quality Commission, was quoted in its state of health and social care report last year as saying: “As adults, we are able to use pliers to extract our own teeth, but I feel that this shouldn’t be something that our children should have to endure.”
The Nuffield Trust, which has claimed that the NHS-funded dental service in England is in near-terminal decline, has published an analysis showing that funding for dental services was £3.1bn in 2021-22, a fall of more than £525m in real terms since 2014-15.
The health secretary, Victoria Atkins, has said she recognises that there is “more to do” to ensure access to NHS dental practices.
The Birmingham University report, Humanitarian Visas in a Hostile Environment, was based on interviews with 43 Hongkongers and Ukrainians, and is said to provide the first comparative analysis based on the testimony of those entering the UK via the government’s new suite of legal routes.
The British government has issued 184,700 visas on the British national (overseas) route for Hongkongers since the Chinese government launched a crackdown on democracy campaigners.
A total of 188,200 Ukrainians have moved to the UK under visa schemes established since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Hongkongers in the UK have to pay immigration health surcharges upfront based on the length of their visas, while the services are free of charge to Ukrainians.
The researchers wrote: “Nevertheless, people’s reported experiences were remarkably similar, and characterised by poor service standards, especially in terms of speed, and trouble with finding a dentist.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Access to dentistry is improving – last year 1.7 million more adults and some 800,000 more children saw an NHS dentist – and we have also announced plans to increase dental training places by 40%.
“We invest £3bn each year to deliver NHS dentistry and we are also taking preventative measures, such as expanding water fluoridation schemes to reduce the number of children experiencing tooth decay.”