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9,000 patients compete to see dentist

ANXIOUS WAIT: the queue outside the dental surgery. Picture: MATT WALKER
ANXIOUS WAIT: the queue outside the dental surgery. Picture: MATT WALKER

THOUSANDS of people are facing a struggle to get NHS dental care after a surgery in Kent decided to go private and halve its number of patients.

College Dental Surgeries in College Road at Maidstone, has informed 9,000 of its registered patients that 4,500 of them will need to look elsewhere for their dental care from next April.

The decision, created by disagreements over a new NHS contract, led to chaotic scenes outside the practice on Monday and Tuesday as people queued in their hundreds to check if they could afford monthly payments to a private dental health care plan.

Unless the patient is under 18, elderly or on income support, many of those who cannot afford to sign up to the Denplan scheme will struggle to find NHS treatment elsewhere in the Maidstone area.

Tovil dentist Tim Hogan, chairman of the Local Dental Committee, which represents the interests of dentists across the county, said: “To my knowledge there is no-one in Maidstone who is going to be able to pick up these patients.

“It will be up to the PCT to ensure they have access to treatment.”

Maidstone borough councillors are due to report back in the New Year on a review into dentistry services available in the borough.

It will reveal how patients registered with the NHS have decreased in the town by more than eight per cent in the last year.

Maidstone Weald Primary Care Trust, which will have greater control over dentistry under controversial new contracts coming into force next year, says there are still 38 dental practices treating NHS patients in the Maidstone Weald area with four currently registering NHS patients.

The changes will boost the number of NHS dentists available, health chiefs claim.

An online search for NHS dentists using the NHS direct website suggests 25 practices within a 17.9 mile radius including just two in the Maidstone borough and one in Tonbridge and Malling. Options suggest surgeries as far afield as Canvey Island in Essex.

In a statement released by three of the dentists who run the College Road practice – a fourth quit the NHS last year – increased bureaucracy and loss of control over patients is blamed for their decision.

“Our commitment is to our patients and in recent years it has become increasingly difficult for us to give them the necessary time and quality of care to which they are entitled.

“We would like to thank our patients for their confidence and support in the past and can assure them that this decision was not taken lightly.

“However in the circumstances it is a necessary change in order to maintain standards of care and we strongly believe it is a positive step for our patients and the practice.”

Bill Millar, Director of Primary Care for Maidstone Weald PCT, said the trust was disappointed with the College Dental surgery’s decision but all NHS funding for them would be re-invested in other NHS practices.

Mina Bush, from Maidstone, one of the hundreds of people who queued outside the College Road practice, said: “I think its sad that we have to do this today. I don’t blame the dentist but I do feel angry about it.”

* Patients wishing to register with an NHS dentist should contact NHS direct on 0845 4647. Details of local practices are available on the website www.kentandmedway.nhs.uk Families on low incomes who are unable to register with an NHS dentist and who are in need of urgent dental treatment should contact the Dental Access Centre via NHS direct.

Maidstone Weald PCT says plans are well advanced in providing better access for patients to an NHS dentist.

In a statement released this week, it says £143,000 has been invested by the PCT to enable dental practices to register 6,000 new NHS patients.

A Polish dentist has recently been appointed to a Maidstone surgery under a scheme which offers dentists a guaranteed monthly income in a bid to persuade more of them to stick with the NHS.

There are also long term plans for two full time NHS dentists at the new health centre in Staplehurst and the PCT is currently reviewing options for NHS dental provision as part of the proposed extension to Hawkhurst Cottage Hospital.

* From April 2006 the way NHS treatment is funded and delivered is changing under government plans to improve the service.

Many dentists are unhappy because of increased bureaucracy, threats to their income, control over patients and working hours.

The changes will include:

Three standard charges for treatment to make it easier for patients to know how much they need to pay.

Greater powers for PCTs over where new practices are established and contracts with NHS dentists for services that meet the needs of the local population.

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