Fears over county's NHS dentist shortage

THE chronic shortage of NHS dentists in Suffolk has been highlighted by the plight of villagers who face a 35-mile round trip to the nearest surgery accepting new patients.

THE chronic shortage of NHS dentists in Suffolk has been highlighted by the plight of villagers who face a 35-mile round trip to the nearest surgery accepting new patients.

John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said the situation facing residents in parts of his constituency was "outrageous", and warned similar problems were occurring across the whole of the county.

He was speaking after villagers raised concerns about the decision of the Wickham Market Dental Surgery to go private, meaning patients will now have to pay higher fees for check-ups and treatment.

But if they want to remain with an NHS dentist, the nearest surgeries accepting charge-paying adults are in Ipswich – and only two surgeries there are offering places.

Surgery patients Carol Fordham and David Drage, from Knodishall, near Leiston, wrote to the EADT with their concerns after learning of the changes.

The surgery at Wickham Market was the nearest to their home that accepted NHS patients – but now they face a 35-mile round trip to Ipswich if they want to continue receiving treatment on the NHS.

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They said: "We joined Wickham Market two years ago following our move into this area and at the time we considered ourselves lucky to find places as practices at Aldeburgh, Woodbridge, Saxmundham and Framlingham were completely private to new patients.

"There are now no NHS dentists taking on new patients in our area – a trip to Ipswich or Felixstowe is required. What happens when we are too old to make this kind of journey easily?

"We cannot afford private dental treatment yet we apparently have no choice but to find the money from somewhere. At the age of 62 and 58 it means that having paid our NHS dues we are faced with having to pay privately for something to which we have contributed all our lives."

But John Purkis, who runs the surgery in Crown Lane, said that he decided to make the move because practising under the NHS had become too difficult.

He added: "As of May 9, I moved over to private practice and offered my patients Denplan Care, a monthly payment plan.

"Continuing to practice under the NHS has become very difficult for me. The volume of patients that I have been seeing and the limited amount of time I am able to spend with each one means that I am finding it very hard to maintain patient care standards to the best of my ability.

"I have investigated the possibility of signing a Personal Dental Services contract as on offer from the NHS, but there is little indication that this would improve the situation, for me or for my patients.

"My conversion to Denplan will allow me to spend more time with each of my patients and therefore be able to better establish their treatment needs and allow me to continue providing the high level of care that my patients expect. I will be continuing to treat children and exempt adults on the NHS."

Last night, Mr Gummer said that the lack of NHS dentists in the region was a huge cause for concern.

"We're now in a situation in Suffolk where we are almost bereft of National Health Service dentists but the Government are taking no notice at all," he added.

"It's not only worrying but outrageous. I've been fighting this for months and I'm very pleased that it is now getting the coverage it deserves because the situation in Suffolk is very bad and getting worse."

In April the EADT revealed that two of the county's five primary care trusts – Suffolk Coastal and Central Suffolk – did not have any dentists who could offer NHS treatment for new patients.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts, which includes Suffolk Central and Suffolk Coastal, said that they were working very hard with Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority to try and address the problems.

A spokesperson for Denplan said that on average patients could expect to be billed around £15 a month, a fee that would cover routine check-ups, unexpected treatment and accident and emergency insurance.

n Anyone wanting to learn more about the state of the dental industry in Suffolk is invited to a meeting at Wickham Market Village Hall tonight at 7.15pm where three representatives from the NHS will be on hand to answer any questions.

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