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A seven-year-old refugee and her mother were forced to return to war-torn Ukraine rather than wait four months for NHS dental treatment in Aberdeenshire.
Lisa Martirosova, who has been living with her family in Scotland since September 2022, urgently needed teeth removed under general anaesthetic.
Mum Oksana was told it would be months before she could get the treatment done in Scotland and was instead told to give her daughter painkillers and antibiotics.
But after seeing Lisa crying out in pain, Ms Martirosova decided to return to Ukraine, despite the trip bringing back “terrible” memories of fleeing the Russian invasion.
One north-east MSP described the ordeal as “simply astounding”.
‘Lisa’s pain was terrible’
Ms Martirosova and her two children Lisa and Illya were forced to flee Kyiv after the invasion in February last year.
They spent months in a refugee camp in Italy and then faced a further months-long wait for their UK visas to be processed.
Ms Martirosova said: “Lisa’s pain was terrible, she couldn’t wait several months on antibiotics.
“She was really afraid and trembling, and every day I had to give her painkillers.”
Ms Martirosova decided enough was enough when Lisa started to cry from the pain and have stomach aches because of how much medicine she was being given each day.
On March 3, the pair travelled 2,000-miles to Ukraine via a flight to Poland and then a gruelling 15-hour bus journey over the border to Kyiv.
Ms Martirosova described the experience as “really hard”.
The journey became even more traumatic as an electrical substation near their old family home in the capital was bombed by Russian forces.
Ms Martirosova added: “I heard the sound and it made me remember the terrible day of the invasion.”
‘I don’t know how people live with this’
The pair came back to Aberdeenshire on March 15 after Lisa successfully had three teeth removed under general anaesthetic in the warzone.
Ms Martirosova said she is shocked children in Scotland are expected to wait months in pain to get medical treatment.
She said: “In our country this would be an emergency and you would go to hospital the same day or the next day, not after several months.
“It is crazy because this can lead to very difficult problems.
“I don’t know how people with small children live with this problem.
“The doctors are good here, but it is bad because of the queues.”
Marra: Health secretary to blame
North East regional MSP Michael Marra, who helped the Martirosovas to get their visas from the UK Home Office last year, insisted the blame lies with Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.
He said: “It is simply astounding that refugees have had to return to a war-torn country for medical treatment.
“Astronomical wait times have forced people to the extremes in order to get the treatment they urgently need.”
Last year, Mr Marra criticised the government’s track record on dentistry after a student almost died from blood poisoning after struggling to get an appointment.
Situation reflects the depth of dental crisis
All Ukrainian refugees who have settled in the UK are entitled to access the NHS for free, including NHS dentists.
The British Dental Association says Oksana and Lisa’s situation highlights the scale of the issues dentists are facing.
Robert Donald, chair of the BDA’s Scottish Council, said: “It reflects the depth of the crisis facing NHS dentistry in Scotland that patients are choosing to head back into a warzone to access care.
“The exodus from this service can be halted, even reversed, and these backlogs brought under control.
“But it will require the next first minister to show leadership and offer real reform and investment.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said the health of Ukrainian refugees is a priority.
They added: “However, the challenges the NHS is facing are not unique to Scotland and are being felt across the rest of the UK.
“The Scottish Government remains focused on supporting services to address and alleviate these pressures and we are working to clear the backlog of planned care appointments caused by the pandemic.”
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[Refugees travel from Aberdeenshire to Ukraine for dental treatment]
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