Concern at shortages of NHS dentists

THE chairman of a working party that has just published a new report on NHS dentistry in Suffolk said foreign dentists were being relied on to plug shortages in the UK.

By John Howard

THE chairman of a working party that has just published a new report on NHS dentistry in Suffolk said foreign dentists were being relied on to plug shortages in the UK.

Access to NHS Dentistry in Suffolk found that the recruitment of dentists was a major issue in the county and warned there was a continuing shift to private practice that must be stemmed if it was to benefit from improved access to ongoing NHS care.

The report, by the county council's Suffolk's health overview and scrutiny committee, came as an East Anglian Daily Times investigation revealed that large parts of Suffolk did not have any dentists taking on adult NHS patients.


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Of the county's five primary care trusts, two did not have any dentists who could offer NHS treatment to adults.

Those trusts – Central Suffolk and Suffolk Coastal – cover important towns and villages including Stowmarket, Woodbridge, Needham Market, Hadleigh and Felixstowe.

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Derrick Haley, chairman of the working party that produced the report, said: "There are problems all over the country, a shortage of dentists coming out of dental schools.

"Most places are relying on foreign dentists and in fact one is being employed in Suffolk. You can't stop dentists going private and there is not enough incentive for dentists who have gone private to come back to the health service.

"It's really a big problem. It's all very well promising to have new dentists, but they take time to train."

But the working party did find that Suffolk compared well with the national picture and that there were dental practices across Suffolk still accepting new NHS patients.

The 21-page report said there was a shortage of NHS dentists in the UK and low numbers across England with an average of 3.7 NHS dentists for every 10,000 people in England – compared to more than five dentists per 10,000 people in Austria, Italy and Poland.

The Department of Health has started recruiting from abroad, particularly Poland, with Suffolk soon to get two Polish dentists.

It said all primary care trusts had action plans to enable more people to see an NHS dentist, and some included the international recruitment of dentists.

There are about 200 internationally recruited dentists already working in the NHS, which the Department of Health said was a way of easing problems in the short term.

But it added this was just one part of a huge programme of reform, which includes unprecedented investment, 1,000 extra dentists by October and 170 extra undergraduate training places starting this year.

john.howard@eadt.co.uk

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