Poles brought in to fill NHS dentist gap
NINE Polish recruits are being drafted in to plug the gap in NHS dentistry in Suffolk.The news comes just days after the EADT revealed a chronic shortage of dentists had left another part of the county without immediate access to NHS provision.
NINE Polish recruits are being drafted in to plug the gap in NHS dentistry in Suffolk.
The news comes just days after the EADT revealed a chronic shortage of dentists had left another part of the county without immediate access to NHS provision.
But while the new announcement has been largely welcomed, it has also been described as trying to patch up "a gaping wound with a sticking plaster".
The new appointments were unveiled as local health watchdogs Suffolk Coastal Patient Forum met with around 60 concerned residents in Wickham Market.
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The village dentist has just gone private, meaning residents there now face a 35-mile round trip to the nearest surgery accepting new NHS patients – unless they are prepared to pay higher private fees.
Commenting on the new appointments, Jenny Brabazon, chairman of the forum, said: "It's not a magic solution, but it's a step in the right direction.
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"You've got a gaping wound and they have put a sticking plaster on it, to use a hackneyed phrase, but it's better than leaving it to gape for ever."
Public dental health consultant Richard Ward, acting on behalf of all of the county's primary care trusts, confirmed the appointments, calling the new jobs "a very significant move".
He added: "If you had said to me this time last year that we would have had nine new dentists coming into the system, you would have said I was dreaming."
Richard Hanlon, chairman of the Suffolk Local Dental Association, said: "Most members of the profession are working as hard as they can to try and treat the public and extra hands make the work easier.
"But we still don't know what the Government's plans are for NHS dentistry."
The recruitment of nine Polish dentists under a Department of Health initiative, who will be phased into the Suffolk system over the next 12 months, is already underway.
And although two have already started work in the west of the county, it has not yet been established exactly where the rest of the new recruits will practice.
Mr Ward said it was too early to be specific as contractual and training obligations had to be met before the appointments were confirmed.
He explained that a complex process of recruitment whereby dentists in Suffolk were approached to see if they had vacancies which they would like filled by Polish recruits, and Polish dentists were approached with a view to moving to Suffolk.
Applicants then go through a lengthy process of interviews and courses and it is ensured that all meet European standards of dentistry and a degree of fluency in English, Mr Ward said.
Derrick Hayley, chairman of Suffolk County Council's working party on access to NHS dentistry has welcomed the appointments but said there was still huge uncertainty about the county's future dental health care.
He said: "I think it's great news but is it going to be sufficient? Are we going to see the loss of further dentists from retirement and from going into private practice?
"There is no reason for anybody to become complacent about this."
Mr Hayley said the future of dentistry in the county would only begin to become clear when new dentistry contracts, scheduled to be introduced in April 2006, had begun to operate.
Mr Ward said the new contracts involved a fixed salary, which did not rely upon treatment performed, and which it was hoped would encourage more dentists to stay in the NHS and involve more preventative education and care.
He said the Polish dentists were already being taken on such a basis and would be contracted to he NHS for three years.
In April, the EADT revealed huge parts of Suffolk have no dentists taking on NHS patients, and of the county's five primary care trusts, two had no new NHS capacity at all.