Somerset Dental Helpline

There’s good news and less good news in an announcement of changes to the urgent treatment helpline for dentistry. From tomorrow (29 April) the service will be amalgamated with Somerset’s NHS 111 service. Anyone needing urgent dental treatment or advice can call 111. It will work a bit like the 111 service does for other medical issues. Following an initial call with a call handler, the person may be put through to a dental nurse who will advise on next steps. This could range from general self-care advice to an urgent appointment being booked within 48 hours.

Please note it is not a 24/7 service. The new service will operate from 8am until 10pm, 365 days a year. The new helpline will be operated by Smile Dental Triage Ltd. Smile are “a clinically led specialist in dental triage, who have provided a high-quality service for more than 15 years.”

However Smile can only work on calls put through from an initial call handler from the 111 service.

This is run by Devon Doctors. It has not been an unmitigated success. In September 2020 the CQC visited Devon Doctors for an inspection of their services. They concluded “it must improve the service it provides as a matter of urgency.” Janet Ortega, CQC’s Head of Inspection for Primary Medical Services in the South, was more specific “People who call the NHS 111 service are entitled to quick and easy access to healthcare advice and information, or access to urgent attention when that’s appropriate. This should never impede on patient care. Our inspectors visited Devon Doctors in July and were not assured that patients were being treated promptly enough and, in some cases, they had not received safe care or treatment.”

A follow up inspection in March 2021 resulted in the service being rated Inadequate. The service was “placed into special measures to ensure the provider gets the support it needs to make improvements and keep people safe.”

At the end of 2021 Healthwatch Somerset (along with its sister organisation covering Devon) undertook a review of patients who had used the NHS 111 phoneline service. Healthwatch Somerset do not pretend this is a scientific survey with statistically valid sampling. But they did engage with over 250 service users and the results are worth noting. Especially in view of the chequered history of the 111 service in Somerset.

The main finding was a complete turnaround in user experience compared with the last survey carried out by Healthwatch Somerset (in 2020). What do we mean by that?

More than half of respondents in 2021, 53.23%, rated their experience of using 111 as “poor” or “very poor,” while 36.69% said it was “good” or “very good.”

In the 2020 review more than half of respondents (55.91%) rated their experience “good” or “very good” and just under one third (31.18%) said it was “bad” or “very bad.”


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