Although NHS chiefs have categorically stated that they will, eventually, close down the dental clinic at Newton Stewart Health Centre, continuing concerns over alternative arrangements means the status quo will remain until at least this summer.
Around 30 members of the public came to the Douglas Ewart High School to hear the latest news on the service from NHS Dumfries and Galloway chief executive Jeff Ace, who explained that unless they were confident that the two independent dentists in the town could assure the NHS they could absorb the 600 patients who attend the NHS dentist onto their books, and guarantee disabled parking and access into any surgery, NHS dental services would remain at the health centre, but only until these specific requirements were met.
The initial plan to close the NHS clinic in 2014 was put on hold due to NHS concerns after two previous Wigtown Area committee meeting with the public. Mr Ace explained that since the last Area Committee meeting in October, one of the town’s independent dentists had indicated that he wanted to expand his operation and a planning application from Hunter Dental Practice has now been registered with Dumfries and Galloway Council for change of use of dwellinghouse to form an extension to the dental surgery at 2-4 Princes Street. The extra surgery will allegedly provide dental care for around 1500 patients.
This proposal was, said Mr Ace “a gamechanger”, as it would allow the NHS to satisfy the Scottish Government diktat that high street dentists are the preferred provider of routine oral healthcare. He added that keeping on the NHS dentist was out of the question as the NHS could not justify “over provision” of dental services in the future. Although the NHS pay a “premium rate” to independent dentist to keep their books open to NHS patients, using them exclusively would, he added, still save the taxpayer around £70,000 a year, helping the NHS meet its financial targets and provide “best value for the taxpayer”.
Patients attending the meeting were keen to express their support for the NHS dentist and the “excellent” service she gave them. One asked why the NHS could not sub-let the clinic in the health centre, with all its modern dental equipment in place and easy parking outside, to one of the high street dentists? Mr Ace replied that as private practitioners running their business as they saw fit, he had no mandate over them. More than one person voiced concern about alleged waiting times between follow-up treatments with private dentists, compared with the NHS service, and Mr Ace admitted that the NHS Board would have to “dig a bit deeper” over this issue as well as looking again at parking spaces where the two high street dental surgeries are located.
Patients were reassured that, once the independent dentist had the capacity to take on the NHS patients, they would be transferred over in the middle of a session of treatment, but only after it was completed and they would also be asked what dentist they preferred to be transferred to.
The NHS chief confirmed that he was happy to take written submissions from members of the public before the next NHS Dumfries & Galloway Board meeting but he warned that the closure of the dental clinic could not be delayed indefinitely.
Mr Ace confirmed: “This can’t be the never made decision as we have to make it for staff peace of mind, but the two year process of engagement has stopped us doing something that wouldn’t work.”
Elected members of Wigtown Area Committee agreed to the recommendations to note the unresolved concerns about access, parking and waiting times and that the present NHS service would continue. They also asked that the issue be raised at the next NHS D&G board meeting and note the involvement of the integrated joint health and social care board in future planning.