Hard-up dentists turn patients away

Thousands of patients are being turned away from dentists in Norfolk - and told they cannot receive treatment until April at the earliest. Dentists in the county say they have run out of money to treat people because of the continuing financial woes of the NHS.

Thousands of patients are being turned away from dentists in Norfolk - and told they cannot receive treatment until April at the earliest.

Dentists in the county say they have run out of money to treat people because of the continuing financial woes of the NHS.

Some have turned away up to 1,000 patients, many of them children, and told them to come back in the new financial year - when they hope to have the funds to treat them.

The sorry situation has emerged because Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) faces a budget shortfall in dentistry due to a government miscalculation when introducing a new dental contract in April last year. Health bosses have been forced to use more than £3m which should be spent on dentistry to plug its financial deficit. The money would have paid for more than 150,000 check-ups.

Harleston dentist Nick Stolls, of the local dental committee, has already turned away an estimated 1,000 patients and said many other practices have done the same in the past month.

“We have had to start saying to some patients that they will have to come back in a few months because we know we can't afford to see everyone,” he said.

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“This is not happening in all surgeries but a lot more dentists are experiencing these problems.”

The impact of the financial crisis means there are many dentists who are being forced to work part-time or are left with little to do until the end of the financial year in April.

Since the new contract was introduced many dentists have been forced to go private because they believe quality of care is no longer being delivered to patients.

At least 27 out of 143 dental contracts in the region were rejected and this figure is set to rise, leaving hundreds of patients in the region unable to find an NHS dentist. Norwich North MP Ian Gibson said: “This situation is intolerable. Patients should go to their MPs and demand the problem is sorted out as soon as possible.”

A large chunk of money the PCT receive to commission high street dentistry comes from the Department of Health and the rest from the money patients pay over the counter at each practice when they have completed their course of treatment. When the new contract was introduced in April 2006 the government had not piloted the new patient charges so the budget was miscalculated.

A Department of Health spokesman claimed it was too early to tell if there would be a shortfall in the budgets. “We will not know the final position until June, and we cannot yet predict with any confidence what the total charges collected over the year will be.”

Norfolk PCT denied there was a lack of capacity in NHS dentistry. A spokesman said: “Across the county, there is plenty of capacity in NHS dentistry, this is particularly so in the Norwich area.

“However, should people find a dentist temporarily not taking patients, they are free to go to any other practice of their choice as there is no longer a requirement to be registered. The money allocated to Norfolk PCT for dentistry is currently £21m per year. This money is fully committed to dentistry.”