A former NHS worker who was unable to get a dentist appointment found out he had an aggressive cancer – but only after paying for private treatment.
Ray, 64, underwent 16-hour surgery and months of radiation therapy to treat cancer in his jaw.
And while he rang the bell last week to announce the end of his cancer treatment, Ray believes he wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t opted for this private appointment.
Ray had previously removed a tooth but the swelling persisted and by Christmas he was unable to eat some foods.
He tried to make an NHS appointment but was unable to get one at his previous practice.
He told Northern Echo, “If I couldn’t have afforded to be private, I might not be here to tell my story.”
“We were lucky that we could afford it. Even if we had to save over time, it might have been too late.
“I couldn’t get an NHS appointment and was told by a practice they had an 800 long waiting list but I could see her in the next week if I pay £50 for a private appointment.”
“I decided to pay for it, and when I left I had an X-ray done. That’s when they discovered the tumor.”
Ray was quickly rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed on January 26 and underwent grueling life-saving surgery on February 14.
Surgeons cut into the right side of his face and removed part of his jaw to access and remove the tumor. Bone and muscle from his leg were transferred to his face to form a new jaw and a skin graft was performed on his leg.
After the operation, he spent six weeks recovering in hospital before undergoing daily radiation therapy sessions to ensure the cancer was eradicated.
Currently Ray can only drink liquids and has a tube attached to his stomach that provides him with the nutrients he needs.
He said: “When I asked the advisor how long it would be before we got back to normal, he said it would be a new normal.”
“I can’t wait for the day when I can have a pizza and a pint.”
“What happened, happened.” The counselor said he didn’t know how much the swelling would go down, but I was confident.
“It’s already a lot smaller than it was when I got out of the hospital.”
“Everyone at the hospital was fantastic.
“It doesn’t seem like much but some people couldn’t afford the £50 for a private appointment and wouldn’t be as lucky as I was.”
“Getting an appointment quickly could make all the difference.”
Ray MP Mary Kelly Foy brought his story up at Prime Minister’s Question Time earlier this month and chaired a debate on the state of NHS dentistry in Durham last week.
She says County Durham has become a “tooth desert” as there are no practices in the county to take new NHS patients.
Ms Foy added: “More than 1,000 dentists have left the NHS since the pandemic – NHS dentistry now exists on paper but not in practice.”
“If Ray couldn’t have afforded private treatment, he might not be here today.”
“It is morally wrong for anyone to be put in this position – and yet affordable dental care continues to deteriorate before our eyes.”
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