Dental commissioning talks underway as boss says he's 'ashamed'

Dr Ed Garratt, executive lead for the Suffolk and North East Essex ICS,

Dr Ed Garratt, executive lead for the Suffolk and North East Essex ICS. - Credit: Ben Carmichael/Suffolk CCGS

Changes to commissioning dentistry in Suffolk will take up to 18 months to come into effect as one health boss said he is "ashamed" of current NHS provision. 

Dr Ed Garratt, executive lead for the Suffolk and North East Essex ICS, vowed at last week's Health and Wellbeing Board meeting that the system was going to do "everything" to improve the situation as it looks to take over responsibility for services from NHS England.

Talks are underway for the commissioning of dental services to move from NHS England to the local Integrated Care System (ICS) – local partnerships of health commissioners and providers, which is anticipated to transfer over by 2023.

Availability of NHS dentists has become a key problem in the county, with some towns such as Leiston losing entire surgeries.

Patients resorted to visiting a free emergency dental clinic as they have been unable to find an NHS dentist and group Toothless and Suffolk formed during the pandemic to campaign for change.

Dr Garratt said at last week’s Health and Wellbeing Board: “The responsibility for commissioning dentistry is going to move from NHS England to the Integrated Care Board within the next year or 18 months, so we will have a lot more local control.

“But I think it has become the biggest issue for our communities, so we are absolutely going to do everything we can to improve the situation.

“I am pretty ashamed of it at the moment, it needs to improve.”

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A meeting of East Suffolk Council’s scrutiny committee last month found that dentist posts were routinely taking two or more years to fill in Suffolk, while the set-up of the NHS contracts meant they were not attractive for surgeries to offer.

Other problems highlighted included the lack of a dental school in the region and the complicated red tape for fully qualified dentists from other countries to join the NHS dental performers list.

Changes to NHS contracts have been proposed for next year which will include seven-days-per-week provision with more flexibility, although full details are yet to be published.

The Department for Health and Social Care has said that the full range of dental services have been available since June 2020, with work continuing with the NHS to improve access to services.