80 mile round-trip for dentist?

Friday, 24 August, 2007

SUFFOLK residents are considering a journey of more than 80 miles for dental treatment, it has emerged.

People living in Felixstowe have been making enquiries about joining a practice that will open in Bury St Edmunds in two weeks' time, the boss behind the new surgery said.

It comes after the EADT revealed on Monday that just one in eight dental practices in the county are accepting new NHS patients.

Nicholas Barter, director of Starburst Dental Care Ltd - an independent service - said since then he has had people from as far away as Felixstowe call his firm to enquire about joining the surgery.

He claimed it was proof that people could not get access to NHS dental treatment.

'We are providing a service that people want and need,' he said. 'We are opening in two weeks' time and we are being inundated with calls.'

Bury MP David Ruffley, who is opening the practice next month, added: 'This is yet more evidence of a totally unsatisfied demand for NHS dental treatment across the whole of Suffolk.

'In light of this I will be making further enquiries of the chief of the Primary Care Trust to ask if the PCT realises that this is the position across the county.'

Out of the 12 practices which have books currently open to NHS patients, eight of them are either in Ipswich or Haverhill, the EADT survey showed. There are none in towns such as Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe and Lowestoft.

Starburst Dental Care Ltd said it had approached Suffolk PCT with the intention of setting up a new NHS practice in Bury St Edmunds but was told there was no demand.

The company said it had no alternative but to launch an independent surgery for the town with prices as close to NHS treatment as possible.

The practice, which opens on September 4, has already got 800 patients and bosses estimate there will be between 3,000 and 4,000 patients after its first six months.

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 this was disputed by Mr Ruffley.

Earlier this week, Suffolk PCT said: '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.'