Dentist joy over PCT U-turn

DENTISTS were claiming victory after health chiefs announced yesterday they will be providing week-day emergency dental care - despite warning earlier this week it could be abolished.

By Juliette Maxam

DENTISTS were claiming victory after health chiefs announced yesterday they will be providing week-day emergency dental care - despite warning earlier this week it could be abolished.

Primary care trusts (PCTs) in mid Essex were considering passing Monday to Friday out-of-hours dental cover to GPs from next month, when they become responsible for NHS dentists from April.

The proposed scheme was denounced as “bonkers” by North Essex local medical and local dental committees.


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But now Chelmsford PCT has come up with a scheme to provide weekday emergency dental care through dental practices which will open in the evenings to treat their own patients and emergencies.

Yesterday, Tony Clough, secretary of the North Essex local dental committee, said: “It's fantastic. “Pressure mounted by medical and dental committees has had some effect.”

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He said Dr Brian Balmer, chief executive officer of the North and South Essex local medical committees, who is on holiday, will be very pleased with the outcome.

“Doctors are not going to have all this pushed onto them. It was a big concern they were going to have to provide emergency dental cover. They don't have the experience or training for it.

“An average medical student only has two afternoons on dentistry in all their medical training,” said Mr Clough.

John Summers, Chelmsford PCT director with responsibility for dentists, pharmacists and GPs, said the new service will make best use of dentists' time and cost less than having a dentist at the end of a phone line waiting for emergency calls.

“What we have come up with now is definitely good for patients and better value for money,” he said.

Dentists providing out-of-hours cover will only charge the PCT half the cost of opening their practice in the evening since they will also be seeing their own patients.

The scheme will operate on a trial basis for three months. It is also likely to be adopted by Witham, Braintree and Halstead PCT and Maldon PCT, said Mr Summers.

However, the local dental committee is worried about what might happen after the three-month trial. It fears the possibility that the PCTs might set up a central out-of-hours base to serve patients from several towns and villages.

The PCTs are looking into setting up an out-of-hours dental centre based in Witham, for patients in Chelmsford, Witham, Braintree, Maldon and possibly Colchester.

Mr Clough said the local dental committee is concerned about how people would travel to a central clinic. “What's an 18-year-old from Chelmsford going to do at 8.30pm - travel by public transport?”

He added: “A lot of people, especially patients exempt from charges, don't have vehicles to travel in.”

Weekend out-of-hours cover is currently provided by an emergency dentist who is on call for three hours on Sunday. From April, this will be extended to include Saturday.

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