King's Lynn dental practice closure exacerbates West Norfolk shortage
Plans for a much-needed new dental practice to serve West Norfolk are likely to be delayed by the coronavirus.
Ongoing concerns about the lack of dental provision in the area have been exacerbated by the announcement that the Mydentist practice on Lynn High Street will be closing at the end of this month.
A spokeswoman for the practice said difficulties recruiting new dentists, alongside increased running costs has forced the closure of the High Street practice on November 30.
She added: “Our teams are working hard to complete open courses of treatment while adhering to all Covid-19 safety guidance.
“Patients are being treated either at this practice before its closure or at our nearby practice, located on Purfleet Street, and are being informed of the closure as well as where they can continue their dental treatment after November 30.”
One patient at the practice, Steve Edwards, has told the Lynn News he is still waiting for an appointment after 18 months.
He said: “Every time they say the dentist has left I find this very disturbing and my health is starting to deteriorate.
“My wife is waiting for treatment and every time she makes an appointment it’s cancelled a few days later. This is not satisfactory and we need to act on this.”
North West Norfolk MP James Wild met with NHS England and NHS Improvement’s director of Primary Care and Public Health, and the head of commissioning on Wednesday to review dentistry provision and plans for improved access.
Mr Wild said a new West Norfolk practice was planned to commence from April 2021, but he fears it will now be delayed by the coronavirus.
He urged anyone who requires emergency or urgent dental care to use the 111 service, or to contact his office if they are facing problems.
Mr Wild has acknowledged it is not practical for constituents to travel as far as Boston and Skegness in Lincolnshire, or Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft to access NHS dental treatment.
He also said part of the challenge has been attracting enough dentists to come to West Norfolk, although he highlighted the success of the new practice opening in Marham.
And there are also aspirations to set up a similar facility to the new school of nursing on Lynn’s College of West Anglia campus to train local dentists.
A spokeswoman for the College of West Anglia said: “Setting up a dentistry training facility is not something we are actively exploring. However, if this is something the NHS and commissioning services are considering, we would, of course, be interested in being involved in any future discussions.”
A dentist, who did not wish to be named, said recruitment is a big problem going back to the closure of many free training schools from the 1980s.
He referred to the nearest training schools for dentists in Norfolk being as far away as London, Birmingham and Sheffield, with the cost of tuition fees now putting many people off learning dentistry altogether.
Routine dental services were paused earlier this year due to Covid-19 but the NHS’ chief dental officer issued national guidance stating that routine services should be restored based on clinical need.
Rachel Webb, director of primary care and public health at NHS England and NHS Improvement in the East of England, said: “We are committed to ensuring everyone can access high quality dental care, and we are working closely with dental providers in Norfolk to improve access to services.
“Although we are working hard to ensure routine dental services can be restored safely, dentists are currently prioritising those patients with the most urgent needs and those with outstanding treatments.
“Anyone who needs urgent or emergency dental care should use the NHS 111 service for advice on where to go.”
Dental practices are constantly reviewing capacity.
The British Dental Association has told the Department of Health and Social Care that a package of capital funding now offers the only hope of restoring routine services to millions of patients across the East of England.
In an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock the BDA has set out the case for urgent support.
This highlights 63 per cent of practices across the region are now operating at less than half their pre-pandemic capacity, with 55 per cent reporting less focus on ‘routine’ dentistry, as urgent and emergency cases receive priority.
The BDA report also shows 56 per cent of practices in the east currently estimate they are able to maintain their financial sustainability for 12 months or less.
BDA chairman Eddie Crouch said: “Covid restrictions have left dentists firefighting with huge backlogs, unable to see more than a fraction of our former patient numbers.
“The clock is ticking on an oral health time bomb, as dentists lose the chance to act on the early signs of decay and oral cancer.
“Ministers have a choice. Make an investment that would pay for itself and bring millions back through our doors, or leave patients waiting for the care they need.”