Problems finding dentists
The struggle faced by people to find an NHS dentist has been underlined by an investigation.Less than a month after the Primary Care Trust revealed it was boosting the number of dentists in Dereham and North Walsham to meet the high demand in the two areas, the Times found practices across the county are stretched to the limit.
The struggle faced by people to find an NHS dentist has been underlined by an investigation.
Less than a month after the Primary Care Trust revealed it was boosting the number of dentists in Dereham and North Walsham to meet the high demand in the two areas, the Times found practices across the county are stretched to the limit.
The shortage of dentists is leading to overflowing books and long delays and patients finding it difficult to get emergency care or routine treatment.
The Times contacted 20 practices across the area - posing as a prospective patient - to investigate the reality on the ground for people who are in desperate need of treatment but cannot afford to pay for private care.
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Of the 20 surgeries only one, in Norwich, could take on new patients and offered emergency treatment on the day or routine check-ups within less than a week.
However, the majority said their books were “overflowing,” and in one instance, a dental practice in mid Norfolk said its dentists could not see new or more patients for the next 18 weeks.
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Other surgeries in Thetford, Yarmouth, Beccles, Cromer or Norwich said they could not pencil in appointments for check-ups earlier than mid April.
Nick Stolls, secretary to the Local Dental Committee said dentists were working hard to meet demand but were “hamstrung” by the new dental contract introduced by the Government in 2006 which he believes does not allow for more flexibility.
“Access to dental treatment has always been an issue for us in Norfolk,” he said. “We have put a lot of pressure on the PCT to improve access and the concerns that we experience now justify that pressure. There has been a tendency to withhold the money to support a budgetary deficit. Dentists also feel hamstrung by the conditions of the new dental contract because they feel they do not want to overshoot their allocations stipulated in the terms of their contract.”
Mr Stolls said the committee had asked for a four pc tolerance above the existing limits within the current financial year to allow dentists to take in more patients who would otherwise have to wait for weeks before they get a check-up. But he said the trust had refused the proposal.
Last month the PCT brought hope to NHS patients after it agreed to spend £700,000 on providing more NHS dentists in towns with the greatest need and Dereham and North Walsham have been identified as the first two hotspots.
They also insisted that more dentists will be offered contracts to provide state treatment across Norfolk in future as the new NHS budget makes provisions for an 11pc increase in funding for the financial year 2008/ 09.
But Mr Stolls said there will be at least another nine months before the new contracts are put in place and more dentists can take in patients.
A spokesman for the Norfolk PCT - whose remit does not cover Yarmouth and Beccles - said: “Dental provision has been recognised nationally as an issue which was why more money is being invested into the services by the Department of Health.
“The PCT does appreciate that some patient's pathways are not yet as good as they could be, as this can be a complicated area. This is something the dental teams are looking at in conjunction with their work around Dental Health Needs Assessment.
“The PCT has also held its own Dental Needs Assessment to identify the priority areas for investment or hot spots of most need, for which we have already put contracts out to tender.
“These are centred around the town of Dereham, and the whole area surrounding North Walsham, incorporating Wroxham, Stalham and Cromer - not just the 'town' of North Walsham.”
The PCT's Patient Advice Liaison Service (PALS) takes calls on a free phone number and offers advice on the availability of dental services across the county.
Emergency access centres can be contacted on Norwich 01603 776834 or King's Lynn 01553 769264. To get up-to-date lists of all NHS dentists in Norfolk area there is a patients helpline 0800 587 4132.
To find out more about open access sessions, patients can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) at Great Yarmouth & Waveney PCT during office hours on 01502 719500; out of hours contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647.”