Hundreds of vulnerable Lanarkshire patients now left without a dentist

Two and a half years. That is a long long time to be working on one basic skill. Yet that is exactly how long it has taken my severely autistic son to get to this stage.

To let a dental hygienist put a toothbrush in his mouth.

Now that two and a half years worth of work is about to be undone overnight by the National Health service and cuts to the special needs dentistry service in Hamilton.

My son, and my daughter, are among hundreds of vulnerable patients who used the only public dental practice in Hamilton based in Douglas Street community health clinic which opened in 2010 at a cost of 4.6 million pounds. Almost all of the patients using the clinic are unable to access other local dentists due to having learning difficulties, complex needs or autism spectrum disorder.

This week staff at the dental clinic were informed that the clinic would be closed within weeks and all patients transferred to other clinics. To date patients have not received news of this but appointments for treatment are already no longer being booked.

My children, who both have autism, have been attending the clinic for over two years. For Isaac (pictured above) who is non verbal and also suffered from the genetic condition Neurofibromatosis type 1, it has been a long and drawn out process to even get him familiar enough with the building and rooms before he would even enter the corridor the dentists were based in. Due to his complex needs any dental treatment would likely require a general anaesthetic at the children’s hospital so it was of vital importance that his oral health was checked frequently. Isaac is unable to communicate pain and has severe sensory issues making tooth brushing a real struggle. The Douglas street clinic arranged for frequent visits for Isaac to build up his understanding and tolerance of the dentist and used a number of strategies to finally build up his confidence to allow a familiar dental hygienist to get a tooth brush inside his mouth. Appointments were never rushed and photographs of staff, the rooms and equipment were taken to help Isaac become less stressed.

It is patients like Isaac who will now be left with no local dentistry service in Hamilton as a result of theses cuts.

The next nearest clinic for Isaac is four miles away in a building he is not so familiar with and where his current dentist only works one day a week. His wonderful dental hygienist however will be located out with South Lanarkshire altogether and Isaac will no longer get to see both familiar staff in the same location. For Isaac this will mean returning to the same stage he was at over two years ago when he would not even leave the car never mind enter the building! It could be another two years or more before he feels able to see another dentist,

By which time who knows what damage will have been done to his oral health?

Isaac’s twin sister, Naomi, used the same dentist this week as an emergency to have two teeth extracted. Naomi also has autism and has significant struggles with eating and drinking. She reacts acutely to pain and as a result of a wobbly tooth she had refused food and drink for two days prior to contacting the surgery. The staff were familiar with Naomi’s anxiety and were able to help her relax and cope with what was a very traumatic experience for her. All this was due to the fact she sees the staff so often and they have taken the time to get to know her and understand her. Now with these new cuts all this has been lost.

No other local dentist will agree to see either of my children due to their complex needs. 

Patients will receive formal notice of the closure next week but there has been no consultation with staff or patients and no time for transition which is so vital with vulnerable patients such as my children.

How can the NHS close such a vital service to the most vulnerable in society?

I have no idea. Right now though I am very worried about the oral health of both my children and that of the hundreds of other disabled patients who used this service. And I am angry that the fourth biggest town in Scotland now has no special needs dental service at all. 

I am glad I took this photo today. It could be the last my son gets to see a dentist for many years to come.