Stockton North MP, Alex Cunningham, has expressed his concern for 17,000 NHS dentist patients following the decision of Billingham-based Queensway Dental Clinic to go private – and has called on the Government to do more to support NHS dentistry.
A number of constituents have been in touch with Alex to raise their concerns after receiving notification that Queensway Dental Clinic will no longer be taking on NHS patients or carrying out NHS services. Although NHS England has said that there are NHS places for patients within a ten-mile radius, Alex has questioned the veracity of the claim.
I am extremely concerned by Queensway’s decision, and am seeking clarification from NHS England about the support being offered to the 17,000 patients that now need to find another dentist. While I have been told that there are many dentists taking NHS patients, investigations from my office have shown that these are few and far between and often only offering long waiting lists or charging holding fees. I am also concerned that a ten mile radius will mean complicated journeys for many patients – and potentially put people off from signing up to another dentist.
Alex also highlighted the fact that the fee structure used by the government gives dentists insufficient income, which disincentives them to continue NHS work. Under the current structure, a dentist is paid the same by the government for a tooth extraction that they would for three root canals and five fillings. This means that if a patient needs complex care, the money dentists receive for it often barely covers the cost for materials and equipment.
The dentists in my constituency try to do what is best by their patients, but this is a fee system that offers perverse incentives to choose the cheapest way to fix the problem, and often forces them to consider seeking private patients to make ends meet.
I intend to raise this matter with the Government and ask what further support they can give to NHS dentistry and those patients that need NHS dentists.