Thousands now left without NHS dentist

THOUSANDS of people in Suffolk have been left without a dentist as six more surgeries in the county drop NHS treatment.The surgeries have declined to sign up to the Government's new contract for dentists, which aimed to provide greater access and lead to better prevention and quality of care.

By John Howard

THOUSANDS of people in Suffolk have been left without a dentist as six more surgeries in the county drop NHS treatment.

The surgeries have declined to sign up to the Government's new contract for dentists, which aimed to provide greater access and lead to better prevention and quality of care.

But the figures have prompted one Suffolk MP to claim that dental provision in his constituency is now worse than it had been for the last 30 years.


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In east Suffolk, 52 dental practices were eligible to take up the NHS contract, which came into force on April 1, but two declined and favoured a move into the private sector.

In the west of the county, only 25 out of 34 practices have accepted the contract. A surgery in Ixworth and two in Lavenham have withdrawn completely from NHS treatment while a further six - three in Bury St Edmunds and others in Woolpit, Sudbury and Newmarket - have reduced their NHS commitment to “child only” contracts.

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In Waveney, 15 of the 16 practices eligible decided to take up the contract with the NHS, with one deciding to treat privately.

John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said the issue was not so much about money but claimed dentists were concerned that if they stay within the NHS they would not be able to offer the first class service they want to, forcing them to go private.

He said: “The dental provision in my constituency is worse than it has been for the last 30 years. The Government must have got this wrong. I am very worried about this.''

Nationally, around 2,000 dentists have not signed up to a controversial new NHS contract, according to Government figures.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said claims that dentists would leave the service in a mass exodus were unfounded, adding that around nine out of ten dentists had signed up and they provide around 96% of NHS dental cover.

But Susie Sanderson, chairwoman of the British Dental Association's (BDA) executive board, said: “I am not surprised to hear of the situation in Suffolk.

“In 1999, the Prime Minister pledged to ensure everyone has access to NHS dentistry that wants it. This week almost 2,000 dentists have left the NHS.

“Can the Minister explain how this helps fulfil that pledge? Everybody - patients, dentists, consumer organisations and primary care trusts - knows there is a problem. Why is it only the Government that insists everything is fine?”

She said many dentists had signed in dispute, which meant “continuing uncertainty about NHS dentistry”.

The BDA said it was unable to say exactly how many NHS patients would be affected in Suffolk, but it is expected to run into the thousands.

A spokesman for Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT) said some people whose dentists quit the NHS would decide to stay on as private patients with their existing practitioner.

He said the PCT would now have to assess how many patients are without NHS provision locally and added it would look at a number of options, including appointing salaried NHS dentists to plug the gap.

Under the new contract, instead of being paid for each NHS treatment they carry out, dentists are given a guaranteed income, estimated to be around £80,000 a year for three years.

Dental charges have also been simplified into three pay bands compared to the old system of around 400 separate payments.

john.howard@eadt.co.uk

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