MOBILE dental units which cost a university health board nearly half a million pounds were out of action multiple times over a period of two years due to faults.
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board purchased two motorised dental clinics from Torton Bodies Limited in March 2020 at a total cost of £469,029 to improve access to dental care for “at risk” groups.
However, the vehicles had to be returned for repairs on multiple occasions between 2021 and 2023.
A total of 44 issues were recorded for both vehicles, including an emergency door which was stiff to open and an overheating generator.
In a letter to Torton Bodies Ltd, dated May 16, Cardiff and Vale UHB states that the vehicles were off the road for a considerable period and that this impacted on the service significantly.
The letter, which asks Torton Bodies to reimburse some of the significant costs associated with the vehicles, also states that both vehicles were returned for repair within 30 days of being delivered.
Torton Bodies said the large majority of the faults found with the mobile dental units were due to user error and lack of maintenance regime in place post-delivery.
Cardiff and Vale UHB acknowledged that there have been faults with the mobile dental units and said that all costs for repair to date have been covered by the warranty.
It is also alleged that both vehicles were not properly MOT certified and that one mobile dental unit was driven illegally 16 times between May 2022 and February 2023.
Cardiff and Vale UHB’s CEO, Suzanne Rankin told regional MS for South Wales Central, Rhys ab Owen, that the Transport Department had not informed the Community Dental Service that the MOTs of the vehicles had ran out.
The issue was sorted as soon as it was flagged, according to Ms Rankin, but patients were required to travel to Treforest for treatment.
Difficulties in accessing NHS dental care in Wales has been widely reported in recent years.
The Senedd’s health and social care committee was told in October 2022 that there were 15,500 patients on the waiting list in Cardiff and Vale UHB and that anyone joining the list could expect to wait about 26 months from the date of joining to receive an NHS dental appointment.
Mr Owen, who raised the issue regarding Cardiff and Vale UHB’s mobile dental units after a well informed source got in touch with his office, tabled a question in March 2023 to the Welsh minster for health and social services, Eluned Morgan, asking how many patients were treated by the units.
In response, Ms Morgan said that the mobile dental units have limiting factors including “restrictions on daily use due to IP&C requirements, travel time and needing regular repairs”.
Ms Morgan’s answer, published on March 24, also revealed that only one mobile dental unit has been fit for use for an extended period of time, “commencing in earnest from June-22”.
The answer stated that 59 bariatric patients were treated and 226 children were seen in schools.
Mr Owen has since written to Ms Rankin to clarify the information given to the minster for health by the Community Dental Service on how much the mobile dental units were used and where they have been used historically.
A Cardiff and Vale UHB spokesperson said: “The Health Board is bound by the procurement regulations in place, and the supplier in question was successful in the tendering exercise via procurement.
“We acknowledge that there have been faults with the two mobile dental units (MDUs) and we have worked with the supplier to resolve them under the terms of their contract.
“All costs for repair to date have been covered by the warranty and the Health Board will not be looking to sell the vehicles at this current time as both are in use.
“The priority of the Community Dental Service is service delivery and providing ongoing, continuing service to these patient cohorts.
“It is regrettable there are times we cannot deliver these services with the use of the MDUs, but we would wish to assure the public that we have been proactive in taking alternative steps to ensure patients are not losing out.”
Other issues associated with the mobile dental units in the past include a broken lift, a faulty safety valve and issues with the hydraulic levelling system.
One vehicle, which was delivered in May 2021, was returned to Torton Bodies for repairs four times. The other vehicle, delivered in January 2022, was sent back for repairs three times.
A Torton Bodies spokesperson said: “Torton are aware of the issues which have been reported relating to the MDU’s which were supplied in 2020, and have been working closely with CVUHB to rectify.
“A large majority of the faults found with the MDU’s were due to user error and lack of maintenance regime in place post-delivery, which CVUHB have agreed to and now have in place.
“Aside from this, the issues relate to third party installed equipment, and not down to the workmanship or design from Torton for example the self-levelling system as you mention.
“Torton have successfully delivered Mobile Dental Units to private clients and NHS authorities across the UK since 1950, and will continue to do so as one of the market leaders.”