Patients set for £1.8m dental boost

HEALTH bosses have revealed detailed plans to improve NHS dental services in a number of Suffolk towns as part of a £1.8million overhaul to increase access to patients.

Russell Claydon

HEALTH bosses have revealed detailed plans to improve NHS dental services in a number of Suffolk towns as part of a £1.8million overhaul to increase access to patients.

The proposals include providing new practices for Bury St Edmunds, Hadleigh, Stowmarket, Eye and Sudbury, while further investment would be provided in Saxmundham, Woodbridge and Newmarket.

It comes as NHS Suffolk, formerly Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT), revealed one in four children aged five in the county has decaying, missing or filled teeth.

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Meanwhile figures have also revealed only 18 NHS dental practices in the county are accepting new patients - just 22% - potentially leaving thousands of people without an NHS dentist.

In a bid to improve access health bosses have promised to monitor the situation on a weekly, rather than quarterly, basis.

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A blueprint to improve the failing service will be put forward to Suffolk's Health Scrutiny Committee at their next meeting on September 9.

Carole Taylor-Brown, the chief executive of NHS Suffolk, will recommend a set of measures to bring the service up to an acceptable standard.

Among the recommendations, to be implemented by £1.8m of extra funding - £500,000 of which will go on improving orthodontic provision - are that people living in urban areas should be within five miles of a dental practice and people residing in rural areas should be no more than 12 miles away.

A mobile dentistry service that could tour remote rural locations is also part of Mrs Taylor-Brown's proposals.

Melanie Craig, deputy director of performance at NHS Suffolk, said: “Extra funding from the Department of Health will mean more dentists and more appointments, meaning that more people in Suffolk will be able to see a NHS dentist.

“We have tried very hard to make the spread of increased availability fair across Suffolk where it is needed. In some places this means new practices e.g. in Bury St Edmunds and the coastal region, and in other areas we will be increasing contracts so that existing dentists take on more new patients.

“Improving access to NHS dentists is an NHS East of England priority and a priority for NHS Suffolk too.

“We are currently talking with dentists across Suffolk, many of whom are keen to expand and take on more NHS patients, and hope to see improvements as early as October this year.”

She added that NHS Suffolk would continue to work to make further improvements in the future.

“For example, we are looking into the feasibility of a mobile dentist service to improve access for smaller rural communities,” she said.

Councillor David Lockwood, chairman of Suffolk's Health Scrutiny Committee, said: “We have got what we asked for in the coastal area and the west of the county. But we will probably be saying it is not enough.

“They (NHS Suffolk) were not providing adequate dentistry in those areas so they came to us with the paper six months ago and showed us where dentistry was and where they thought the short falls were and said they had not got any further.

“My words were 'bring back the cake with the candles burning'. It should be an interesting debate.”

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