Village's NHS dentist snub 'appalling'

HEALTH chiefs were criticised last night after it emerged that a new NHS dentist surgery could have opened in a Suffolk village if the Primary Care Trust had supported the move.

John Howard

HEALTH chiefs were criticised last night after it emerged that a new NHS dentist surgery could have opened in a Suffolk village if the Primary Care Trust had supported the move.

A firm had tried establish an NHS practice in Debenham providing much-needed access to dental care, but simply never heard back from the trust.

The snub was labelled appalling by an MP last night, who said it appeared free NHS treatment was not a priority for the PCT.

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A spokesman for Starburst Dental Care, which has instead recently opened an independent practice in the community's High Street, said last night that they had approached the PCT to ask for an NHS contact, but never heard back.

And he said if the PCT were to award them a contract in Debenham, which has about 2,300 residents, they would still offer NHS care in the village where families currently have to travel to Stowmarket to the nearest NHS dentist.

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Peter Barter, whose firm seeks to offer affordable treatment, said: “Many years ago Debenham had a very busy dental practice but that was at the time when a dentist could put his or her plate up anywhere they liked and could offer treatment under the NHS.

“Sadly that is no longer the case. From April 2006 everything changed and dentists were no longer free to offer NHS treatment where they thought there was a demand and where they wanted to be.

“From that date, if a dentist wanted to work within the NHS he or she could only go where the PCT would award a contract and the PCT would only award a contract where they wanted them to be.

“As we all know, within a few months of the new contract being introduced, the PCTs were complaining of a shortage of money, which meant that there were insufficient funds for dental contracts to be allocated in the smaller communities.

“The situation is currently no better and it is very unlikely, unless the Department of Health has a dramatic rethink, that somewhere as small as Debenham would be considered as an area of sufficient need for the PCT to award a dental contract in that area.

“This means of course, that certainly in the immediate future, Debenham will be without this essential service despite the fact that this is a very significant community and one that is expanding almost on a monthly basis.”

David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: “The fact that they did not even get a reply from the PCT is appalling and shows the scandalously low priority that the PCT attaches to free NHS dental care.”

A PCT spokesman said: “During 2008-9, the PCT is committing £1.3m for general dental services to improve access across Suffolk and a further £500,000 to improve orthodontic services.”

He said a new set of standards had been drawn up to help the PCT make decisions about where there is most need for new dental services.

“New investment in Eye and Stowmarket will improve access to dental services for all people living in the surrounding area,” he said.

"We are also looking into whether a mobile service aimed at improving access for smaller rural communities would be possible.

“It is logical that a greater need for services leads our decision to pay for better services. Any commissioning of new practices must be via a tender process to obtain best value for money and ensure a fair and transparent process.”

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