Targets could see dentists quit NHS

The "treadmill" of government targets is prompting more dentists in Norfolk to ponder quitting the NHS, health chiefs were warned last night. Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, said the profession's disenchantment with state-run dentistry was growing because dentists were being stopped from doing more preventative work.

The "treadmill" of government targets is prompting more dentists in Norfolk to ponder quitting the NHS, health chiefs were warned last night.

Nick Stolls, secretary of the Norfolk Local Dental Committee, said the profession's disenchantment with state-run dentistry was growing because dentists were being stopped from doing more preventative work.

The new regime of targets also failed to recognise their efforts if they do more work than expected.

Although Mr Stolls said the contract introduced last year was better than the previous system, he admitted the new arrangements have not "quite panned out," and warned that more dentists could drop out of the NHS in the short term - leaving patients with little choice but to pay for private appointments.

Norfolk Primary Care Trust, which commissions NHS dental services in the county, said there were 111 dental practices around Norfolk offering NHS care - and half were able to take new NHS patients.

But Mr Stolls said: "Under the new contract, each surgery has to perform a certain amount of 'units of dental activity' ranging from dental check-ups to fillings and crowns to receive a lump sum of money from the NHS."

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"But more and more dentists feel they are not spending enough time with their patients, giving out hygiene instructions and carrying out preventative work because they constantly have to

keep an eye on their achievements.

"Those were the things that were promised to us by the government, but the system has not quite panned out. Dentists are beginning to feel the treadmill effect and could decide to withdraw from the new contract."

The warning comes as it emerged that two out of three NHS dental surgeries in Dereham are to go private. Thousands of patients at Dereham's Family Dental Health and Norwich Street Dental Surgery have been told to make other arrangements or face bills for private treatment.

Last night Emma Softley, manager at Dereham Family Dental Health said the business could no longer afford to treat patients under the new contract, while Mario Gomez, one of the partners at Norwich Street Dental Surgery insisted the decision to go private was taken to provide adequate time and care to each patient.

"We were established over 30 years ago and have been committed to the NHS, hoping that the system would improve," Mr Gomez said.

"However, the new contract has set increasingly unattain-able targets for each of our dentists and we feel we cannot spend enough time with our patients."

An NHS dental patient in town who did not wish to be named wrote to the newspaper: "Last year we paid in total for the whole family £108 in NHS check-ups and to see the hygienist, with the new system we will have to pay an extra £280 for the same treatment. It is simply outrageous."

Earlier this year practices in Sheringham, Cromer and Holt stopped treating NHS patients and at least one surgery in Norwich went part private in April.

A spokesman for Norfolk Primary Care Trust confirmed two dental practices in Dereham decided to opt out of the NHS.

"Initially, some dentists did express concerns about the contracts as it was a new system, but from the feed back we have received these concerns are starting to settle down and the dentists have adapted very well.

"In total there are 111 dental practices in Norfolk, still treating NHS patients, and about half of those are able to take on new patients," he added.

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