Survey highlights lack of NHS dentists

ONLY one in eight dental practices in Suffolk is accepting new NHS patients - despite the Government claiming access to services was greater than ever before, an EADT survey has found.

By Danielle Nuttall

ONLY one in eight dental practices in Suffolk is accepting new NHS patients - despite the Government claiming access to services was greater than ever before, an EADT survey has found.

Huge swathes of the county have no dentists taking on new adult patients and there are warnings more practices will go private because of a perceived lack of funding.

There are currently just 12 practices in Suffolk whose books are still open to NHS patients, with eight of those either in Ipswich or Haverhill. There are none in towns such as Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe and Lowestoft.


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It comes after the Government introduced new NHS contracts in April last year, which it said had given dentists “the flexibility to develop services that fit local needs”.

But Bury St Edmunds Conservative David Ruffley said the new contract had had the opposite effect.

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“The shiny new contract was flawed from the beginning,” he said.

“It comes as no surprise to me it's become a worse service than before.

“Dentists told me when this contract came out that this was not going to work. It is quite clear this was a bungled contract design from faceless bureaucrats in London.”

Under the new contract, the commissioning of dentistry was handed over to Primary Care Trusts (PCTs).

But Mr Ruffley claimed Suffolk PCT did not have the money to be able to open and support new NHS practices.

“Suffolk PCT, as everybody knows, has a huge financial deficit that it's having real difficulty reducing and of course they are looking at ways of cutting costs. One way is not to give a dental surgery an NHS contact,” he said.

The EADT survey found out of 90 dental surgeries, only 12 are currently accepting NHS adult patients - including five surgeries in Ipswich and three in Haverhill.

Andrew Cann, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council's Liberal Democrats, said: “People in many parts of Suffolk still cannot find an NHS dentist and there are serious concerns the new system doesn't provide enough money for dentists to treat NHS patients towards the end of the financial year: something that will only get worse after 2009 when the dental budget will no longer be ring-fenced.

“I cannot help but think that the new NHS contracts have little to do with the healthcare of the public, and everything to do with saving money.”

A spokesman for the PCT said last night: “Following the introduction of the new dental service contract the PCT has improved the level of access to dentistry across the county.

“The PCT is committed to improve access focusing on areas of most need as a first priority.”

Health Minister Ann Keen added: “One year on (from the introduction of the new dental contracts), we have a system that provides a more secure basis for developing future dental services.

“The local NHS now has, for the first time, both a statutory duty to provide dental services and the flexibility needed to develop services that fit local needs.

“In many areas, patients are already seeing the results of this in new or developed services.”

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