Number of dental patients plunges

THE number of people being seen by dentists in Suffolk has fallen by more than 16,000 since the introduction of a controversial new contract, it has emerged.

THE number of people being seen by dentists in Suffolk has fallen by more than 16,000 since the introduction of a controversial new contract, it has emerged.

Figures show that in the two years up to September 30 last year, 16,446 fewer people had seen a dentist compared to the two years before the dental contract went live in April 2006.

The figures, released by the NHS Information Centre, show that in the North East Essex PCT area, there was a reduction of 26,140 - a drop of 13.5% compared to the national average of 3.9%.

The British Dental Association (BDA) last night said it was difficult to know why less people were being seen by dentists in the region.

But a spokesman said there have been 'well-documented problems' with the dental contract introduced in April 2006 which gave primary care trusts responsibility for NHS dentistry.

'It is difficult to know whether there is a lack of dental provision or whether people are not seeking access to dentists,' the spokesman said.

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'There are well-documented problems with the contract that have been raised by politicians; by patient representative groups as well as the BDA and these problems are problems with access and setting of unrealistic targets for many dentists.'

In the two years prior to the introduction of the dental contract in April 2006, 333,449 people in Suffolk were seen by a dentist. But in the two years to September 2008, this figure had fallen to 317,003.

NHS Suffolk, the county's primary care trust, said the reduction in people visiting the dentist could be because the public are not aware of what services are available to them.

Clare Banyard, head of dental services at NHS Suffolk, said: 'There don't appear to be any concrete reasons as to why fewer people are visiting a dentist - but it could be that the public may not always be aware of what NHS dental services are actually available to them in Suffolk.

'We'd like to take this opportunity to let people in Suffolk know about the improved availability of NHS dental services. From 2008 to 2010, we'll have put additional funds in place to ensure a further 48,000 people in Suffolk can see an NHS dentist.

'This includes five new dental practices in the county opening over the next year - two in Bury St Edmunds, opening September 2008 and March 2009 respectively, one in Hadleigh, opening within the next few months, and a further two are planned for the Suffolk Coastal area later on this year.

'In addition, NHS Suffolk has been allocated an additional �1.8 million for 2009/10 which will be used to continue improving access for people wanting an NHS dentist. Three further locations in Suffolk have been identified for new dental practices, in the Ipswich/Kesgrave, Sudbury/Great Cornard and central Suffolk areas.

If you would like to register with an NHS dentist, you can call the Patient Advice and Liaison Service on 0800 389 6819.

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