Shortage of dentists is a sore point

A woman suffering from excruciating toothache was left fuming after being told she would need to travel nearly 200 miles for emerg-ency treatment after 50 local practices turned her away.

A woman suffering from excruciating toothache was left fuming after being told she would need to travel nearly 200 miles for emerg-ency treatment after 50 local practices turned her away.

Adele Buckley, of South-wold, was astonished after she was told by an operator at the NHS Direct helpline that the nearest emergency dentist available was based in Wolverhampton - 190 miles away.

Mother-of-two Mrs Buckley, 44, who had a tooth abscess, was also told by about 50 Suffolk practices that they could not take her on for NHS or private treatment.

She said she was left high and dry because she had been removed from the list of her Southwold dentist after failing to book in for an appointment for two years.

Mrs Buckley's predicament was revealed as new figures showed fewer dental surg-eries in Suffolk were taking on new NHS patients, despite the introduction of govern-ment contracts aimed at improving accessibility.

Business consultant Mrs Buckley said: "I was in a state of disbelief because Wolver-hampton is nearly 200 miles away. I'm sure a lot of people have found themselves in a position where they have been deregistered.

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"I just want to get it sorted, but it is a massive problem and the government needs to sort something out."

A spokeswoman for NHS Direct said the organisation would investigate Mrs Buckley's claims if she made a formal complaint, but that it was not policy to refer patients to dentist such a long distance away.

A spokesman for the Great Yarmouth and Waveney Primary Care Trust said: "We do have emergency dentistry provision in the Waveney area. We always keep slots for urgent appointments during the day, which are covered by dentists in Beccles, Hales-worth and Lowestoft.

"What should have happened is that this lady was directed to one of these, where she should have been able to get an urgent appointment within 48 hours, which is the national target."

Of Suffolk's 96 registered dental practices, only 12 offer NHS treatment for new adult patients, according to the latest figures, given on the NHS Direct website. In the Waveney area there are 15 practices, with three accept-ing adults for NHS treatment and three accepting children.

A spokesman for the Suffolk Primary Care Trust said access to NHS dentistry was improving across the whole of the county and that he believed there were actually 16 practices accepting new adult patients in the county and 19 accepting children.

He added: "There were some gloomy predictions that the contract could be the death-knell of NHS dentistry. Our experience here in Suffolk is that it has had the opposite effect."

Under the new contracts, courses of treatment are split into three bands, which cost £15.10 for routine exams, £42.40 for fillings or extractions or £189 for dentures or crowns.

Anyone needing help finding an NHS dentist should contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service at their local primary care trust. For the Waveney area, the number is 01502 719501­ , between 9am and noon, Monday to Friday.