Alarming NHS dentist shortage revealed

LESS than 15% of dental practices in Suffolk are taking on new NHS adult patients, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.Of the 100 practices in the county listed on the NHS website, just 13 are registering new adult patients on the NHS, while 26 are taking on children.

LESS than 15% of dental practices in Suffolk are taking on new NHS adult patients, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.

Of the 100 practices in the county listed on the NHS website, just 13 are registering new adult patients on the NHS, while 26 are taking on children.

The figures are even more shocking when broken down into districts, with the region's three largest areas almost devoid of dentists taking on new NHS patients.

In the Ipswich Primary Care Trust area, where 29 practices are listed, just two are taking on adult patients and three are open to youngsters under the age of 18.


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Meanwhile, just one practice of the 11 listed in Bury St Edmunds is taking on both new adult and child patients.

And in Lowestoft, only three of the area's nine practices are currently taking on new adult and child custom.

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While several other practices in the county will take on non-paying NHS patients and carry out some work on the NHS, they are very much in the minority.

The figures emerged on the day Health Secretary John Reid promised to bring an extra 1,000 dentists into the NHS in a bid to improve services.

Dr Reid pledged yesterday to bring in the equivalent of 1,000 dentists to the NHS by October 2005.

It is expected that around 650 of these will be new recruits either from home or brought in from overseas.

Dr Reid said the changes to dentistry announced were part of the biggest reform since the service began in 1948.

But the stark figures in Suffolk will lead many to speculate that dental health could be a ticking timebomb.

And it is feared that those who can't register with an NHS dentist may simply avoid treatment rather than pay the escalated prices for private care.

Richard Hanlon, chairman of the Suffolk Dental Committee and a spokesman for the British Dental Association, warned of problems to come.

"We don't have enough dentists in this area so practices are full and the fees paid by the NHS are bargain basement," he added.

"We also don't have a dental school nearby - the nearest are in London - and a lot of newly qualified dentists like to stay in the area where they qualify.

"The profession generally will welcome provision from the Government, especially extra funding investment as that's the biggest problem.

"I'm not terribly sure getting them from abroad is the best way of doing things but it's a bit of a stop gap and we will have to see how that works out.

"It's going to take a good year for it to work through the vacancies, it's not instantaneous."

Mr Hanlon, a dentist for 33 years, added: "This is as bad as I can remember it.

"We had trouble in the early 90's when the Government decided we were earning too much and cut the fees which started the problems - and it's been a slow trickle ever since.

"I think we are just about keeping a lid on the problem at the moment. Anybody who wants treatment can find someone eventually to do the work.

"People just have to keep trying with NHS direct and phoning round practices which will take people on."

Richard Ward, consultant in dental public health for the Suffolk Public Health Network, said the main problem stemmed purely from a lack of dentists.

"We desperately try to attract dentists to Suffolk but it's difficult," he added. "I don't know why, but people seem to think Suffolk is a long way from places. It's not, and once we get them here they tend to stay."

Mr Ward continued: "In general terms, the shortage means that people have to wait longer and travel further for an appointment.

"We have been given some Department of Health money and at the moment we are using it as an incentive to encourage dentists to take on more patients and help us with this particular problem.

"I don't think there's any evidence that people give up going if they can't get registered with an NHS dentist – it probably means that they travel a bit further to see one.

"If you have a pattern of attending a dentists regularly then I think that's what you will do. "However, the concern is that if people don't have a pattern of regular attendance and an obstacle is put in their way, it's hardly going to encourage them."

DENTISTS WITH NHS VACANCIES

Primary care trust A B C

Central Suffolk 9 1 2

Ipswich 29 2 3

Suffolk Central 13 1 4

Suffolk West 31 6 12

Waveney 18 3 5

KEY

A Number of dentists within primary care trust area

B Number of dentists accepting adults for NHS treatment

C Number of dentists accepting children for NHS treatment

n Figures from the Department of Health at http://www.nhs.uk/england/dentists/MapSearch.aspx?rg=Y22

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