Shortage of NHS dentists bites

AS few as 20% of Suffolk dental practices are taking on new NHS patients, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.Serious shortages of dentists has seen some practices close their lists, while others are swamped with patients – leaving many with no choice but to pay for their treatment.

AS few as 20% of Suffolk dental practices are taking on new NHS patients, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.

Serious shortages of dentists has seen some practices close their lists, while others are swamped with patients – leaving many with no choice but to pay for their treatment.

And Suffolk County Council is taking the issue so seriously that one of the authority's committees – Health Overview and Scrutiny – will meet today to discuss ways of easing the problem.

In a report to that meeting councillors are told that research shows fewer than 35% - and possibly as low as 20% - of the county's dental practices are taking on new NHS patients.


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Councillor Bob Tostevin, who chairs the committee, said: "We are aiming to look at the position as it stands at the moment and see what action we can take.

"There are areas of the county which are served far better than others, and we want to get a certain amount of equality across the whole of dentistry in Suffolk.

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"It is often very difficult to find a dentist unless you can pay for it – and that's an option which is not open to everyone.

"There is no reason why healthy teeth should not be available to the whole population. We have identified that there's an issue here and we are going to be taking action."

Figures show that in Suffolk 51% of adults and 63% of children are registered with an NHS dentist, compared to national figures of 45% and 61% respectively.

But just 32 of the county's 107 practices are currently accepting new NHS patients, while there are also huge differences in the number of practices in different areas of the county.

People in West Suffolk enjoy 34 dental practices to choose from, while those in Central Suffolk have just nine, and Suffolk Coastal can boast just 14.

Richard Hanlon, a spokesman for the British Dental Association and chairman of the Suffolk Local Dental Committee, runs a practice in Framlingham.

He said: "The biggest problem we face is the national shortage of manpower and the issues we have in getting people to come and work in East Anglia.

"We don't have a dental school in the region and, of course, many newly qualified graduates tend to stay in the areas they already know.

"Another issue is simply that because practices have got so many patients already, they don't want to take any more on.

"I think we are coping at the moment, but it is a problem."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health added: "We want patients to have greater choice about where, when and how they use dental services.

"That's why we are working with dental teams to bring about huge changes to the dental service in the long term.

"We recognise that we have problems to overcome. We are working to ensure that this continued investment in dentistry will help to improve services in areas that are currently under pressure.

"We are committed to making NHS dentistry an attractive career option to encourage more dentists into the NHS.

"Under the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act, Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) will take over the funding and commissioning of local NHS dental services and take control of the £1.2 billion dental services budget from central government.

"This will end the 'treadmill' of fee-per-item work which has been a gripe for NHS dentists.

"In September, a further £35m was announced for Primary Care Trusts to improve access to dentists for patients in areas that have a shortage of dentists.

"Strategic Health Authorities will work with PCTs to decide how best the money will be used locally, for example establishing dental surgeries in health centres or recruiting extra dentists to support, screen and treat more patients."

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