Concerns raised over access to NHS dentists in Norfolk

A shortfall in NHS dentistry and the difficulties accessing treatment from Norfolk's most isolated communities will be among the concerns discussed by councillors later this week.

The county's health overview and scrutiny committee will meet on Thursday to assess the difficulties people face in getting access to an NHS dentist.

The group will discuss whether a series of targets set in 2008 – including that rural patients should be able to get a routine appointment within eight weeks and within 30 minutes travelling time – are being met.

A report to the committee from NHS Norfolk and Waveney says patient satisfaction on the issue is between 96 and 97pc – higher than the national average of 94pc. It also notes that access to NHS dentistry has improved 'significantly' since 2008, with �4.8m invested in the provision of general treatment.

But the report acknowledges more work needs to be done to 'meet unmet demand in hotspots', to improve access to urgent treatment for 18 to 24-year-olds, and to improve domiciliary services, particularly for the over-75s.

A separate report from the Norfolk Local Involvement Network (Link) says 24pc of the 58 practices responding to its own survey said they were unable to accept any new NHS patients.

Dentists said the problem was caused by a lack of government funding, compounded by worsening public transport links as patients were forced to look further afield for an available surgery.

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Anthony Darwood, one of the authors of the Link report, said: 'Overall we felt that the picture was fairly positive, but there were some areas which we felt could be improved, like provision of domiciliary care and support for people with learning or language difficulties.

'To make a practice viable you need a decent number of patients. If you live somewhere like Bawdeswell, the nearest medical practice is in North Elmham, but the nearest dental practice is in Dereham.

'That is one of the things we should highlight. Many practices are located near bus stops, but that does not help someone who only has a bus service once a week.'

Mr Darwood said it should be made easier to access a comprehensive list of the practices accepting new NHS patients, and that more needs to be done to tempt qualified dentists to the region.

'The system is certainly stretched at the moment, and there really needs to be some way of encouraging more graduates to come to Norfolk – but I do not have the answer,' he said.

Mark Ter-Berg who runs rural dental practices in Long Stratton and Brundall said: 'People living in rural communities expect to travel but when practices in, say, Long Stratton and Diss have no funding for extra patients people have to travel much too far. The plain fact is that there is not enough funding in South Norfolk and whatever statistics are trotted out you cannot get an NHS new patient appointment in great swathes of South Norfolk.

'A mainstay of the current governments healthcare reforms is choice, which I think is great, but where is the choice when all the popular practices are full up and you have to travel miles to the few that are under subscribed?'

Mr Ter-Berg said the Department of Health's proposed allocation of extra funding in South Norfolk for 4,000 units of dental activity (UDAs) only represented the work of half an extra dentist for the region.

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