Today at lunchtime I had a dental appointment at Stirchley Dental Practice in Telford. Two fillings have fallen out  at the back of my main front teeth and they need fixing.

I’m writing this blog in tears after being told verbally by the receptionist that I’d been stuck off by the practice by by one of the partner Nicolas Shackleton and he had refused me a new appointment saying I was now no longer a patient.

I have no doubt that my being a few minutes late for appointment (only to discover my watch was not the same time as was on their clock – which was apparently showing me 15 minute late.) has not helped the issue at all. My previous appointment  2 weeks ago I had to get someone to phone in for me and cancel because I couldn’t get there in time with public transport. I’m told my being late was the reason for being struck off. I disagree.

When I asked for the information to be given to me in writing (and the reasons) and the receptionist said he (the partner) would refuse to do so.  I was told I could write to another partner who was their Complaints Co-ordinator!

So they can make this decision, not give me notice or written information but to sort it out I have to write and complain? I wasn’t offered a copy of their complaints procedure and cannot find anything online.

To make matters worse I had to repeat back what she was saying so I could get her to spell out the names of people she was mentioning. This then became a very public conversation with people in the waiting room listening in.

I have no doubt my complaints two days ago of Deaf Discrimination has a direct link to their decision to tell me I’d been struck off.

I had to go and re-arrange appointment for emergency treatment on 8 Feb.  I ended up quoted the Equalities Act 2010 at the reception staff as they refused to make me appointment telling me to phone in even though I told them I was Deaf.

They have no online booking system, email or SMS system for me to make contact with them. If you need an emergency appointment you have to ring in by 9am. It’s obvious that as a Deaf person I do not have the same access as a hearing patient.

I don’t have a minicom and my preferred way of contact is via email, text and skype video/chat. If I can book flights, arrange accommodation, sort my visa, buy my ticket for SXSW Interactive in Austin all online taking place on another continent so why can’t I sort out a dentist appointment with the practice just up the road from where I live?

We are in grips of serious winter weather – the roads and pavements are icy too so will they too tell off everyone who is late because of the weather?

The receptionist told me in a firm manner that their clock was digital, accurate and connected to GPS – it looked like an ordinary black and white round clock. A google search hasn’t shown up any similar clocks. Do they exist or was it made up?

It seems if you stand up for your rights as a patient they don’t like it. Every time I have gone in I dread it – I feel like I’m a nuisance and they talk loudly at me.

When I quoted the Equalities Act two days ago (8 February) at reception staff –  I had to tell them by failing to make reasonable adjustments for my access needs (and ultimately other Deaf and hard of hearing patients or those who couldn’t use the phone) they were breaking the law by refusing to do so.

The receptionist reluctantly went off to talk to the Practice Manager and even more reluctantly agreed to re-arrange the appointment on her return.  I wasn’t offered any apology. I still insisted on speaking to the practice manager because it was clear I was just being dismissed and the issue still remained.

The Practice Manager approach contrasted sharply – she listened and keen to resolve the issue yet the reception staff were so blunt with me. Stirchley Dental Practice seems has a top down authoritarian approach that suits the practice but doesn’t accommodate their patients (who after all are also customers).

They have a Disability Policy but one page on a wall that is so vague it is a series of statements that don’t translate into practice (it’s also too high to be read by a wheelchair user). They don’t have an induction loop and their facilities info on the NHS website reads dismally

I had a long talk with the Practice Manager who agreed they needed to look into the issue for all their patients. I also gave useful contacts for Telford Deaf and Hard of Hearing Forum and other web links to check out.

She cited the cost of such electronic systems at me that they were too expensive to implement (they didn’t have the staff to manage it) and the practice didn’t have the resources to do so but would look into the issues.  The apparently send out reminders by text but you can’t respond to them (illogical I think it’s no different to answering the phone).

As with my GP surgery (who call your name out on a loudspeaker – that’s another story) money is always cited as a main issue.

I agree for any business the cost is a factor but surely they should be meeting their legal requirements under the law? Disability Discrimination legislation has been in place for SEVENTEEN YEARS! They have had plenty of time to address it.

I also suggested that they put a post-it style sheet on the wall to generate comments –  it could be colourful and interesting and who knows might give them some good ideas and suggestions to improve communication – after all it is not just about me but improved communication and service benefits all.

I now face the impossible task fo finding an NHS dentist (how!) and hopefully one that is DEAF FRIENDLY. It was nigh impossible to find this dentist in the first place when we moved here.

Ironically I’m under another dental practice  in Telford (sadly private) for my braces treatment (on the NHS) and they are brilliant. I can email in, staff are friendly and it’s a nice place to visit (honestly and I am scared of dentists). They don’t have NHS openings and even so I wouldn’t even be able to transfer till my braces treatment is over.

Will I be faced with having to explain what happened at Stirchley Dental Practice with a new dentist? Will I be refused because I am seen as a problem patient?

On searching for advice I’ve discovered that Stirchley Dental Practice has just been chosen as one of 70 dental practices to pilot a new dental contract s quoted in a NHS press release  and news article on Wellington News Online in January 2012 to quote the contract covers:

    • how many patients are registered with the practice
    • the quality and outcomes of the service they receive
    • structured to reward dentists for the continuity and quality of care provided to patients, as opposed to simply reimbursing them for the number of courses of treatment provided.

The partners of Stirchley Dental Practice, Rob Riley, Nick Shackleton and Paul Eddington, said: “We are really pleased to have been selected as one of the pilots for this new project. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to enhance the quality of our services, and we are pleased to be taking part in a project that looks at putting quality at the forefront of dental care. We would like to reassure our patients, that they should notice very little difference to the quality of treatment they receive.”

Words fail me reading this –  ’enhancement’ and ‘quality of care’ doesn’t include quality of Deaf access or a respectful customer service.

I’m told by a friend that if you ask for adjustments and then action is taken against you you are being treated adversely when trying to secure reasonable adjustments and that is further discrimination.

I’ve emailed EHRC helpline for advice unlike when you phone I’d get instant advice –  I have to wait five working days (reality that’s 12 days time) to receive a reply from them …

Postnote: It’s just occurred to me the dental practice should have a system of notification if they are so strict about arrival times and that is sent in writing (why would you tell a Deaf person verbally?).