Failed by the NHS: 82,000 deprived of dental treatment
MORE than 82,000 people in Scotland are stuck on waiting lists to get access to an NHS dentist, figures obtained by The Scotsman have revealed.
Rural areas are hardest hit by the shortage of NHS practices, despite efforts to encourage more dentists to work in these parts of the country.
Our investigation shows the health board areas with the longest lists include NHS Highland, with 31,504 people waiting for a place, and NHS Grampian, with 30,936.
Even smaller boards, such as in Shetland and Orkney, reported that thousands of patients were waiting to join an NHS practice.
The Scottish Government said it was tackling the waiting lists, but dentists' leaders and opposition politicians insisted more immediate action was needed.
Dr Nigel Carter, of the British Dental Health Foundation, said: "We recognise that access to dentistry continues to be an issue, and increasingly so in Scotland.
"We would call on the Scottish Government to increase funding for dentistry to help increase the number of NHS dentists."
Jamie Stone, the public health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said it was "outrageous" that such a large number of people were waiting for an NHS dentist in Scotland.
"The Scottish Government is clearly not doing enough to boost dentist numbers," he said.
"Regular visits to the dentist are vital, not only to oral health, but also overall health and wellbeing. Scottish ministers have to tackle this urgent problem."
Andrew Lamb, the British Dental Association's director for Scotland, said: "It is important that the Scottish Government continues to address the shortage of dentists in Scotland to help patients access care.''
The figures obtained by The Scotsman revealed that, in most areas, the list has actually grown in the past year – despite an increasing proportion of adults becoming registered with an NHS dentist in Scotland overall.
Several health boards also reported that they did not hold a central waiting list for NHS dentistry – raising the prospect that thousands more patients could be looking for an NHS dentist.
In recent years, many dentists have turned their backs on the NHS in favour of private practice, blaming
a growing burden caused by having to comply with health-and-safety legislation and other regulations. They say this means they are forced to take on more private patients to help meet their costs.
Initiatives, such as offering dental students "golden handcuff" bursaries worth thousands of pounds in return for commitment to the NHS once they graduate, have been introduced in attempts to boost the number of NHS places.
And the proportion of adults and children registered with the NHS is now increasing. As of June this year, 55.4 per cent of adults were with an NHS practice – up from 46.5 per cent a year previously. The percentage for children increased from 67.5 to 75.6 over the same period.
But in Scotland's most rural areas, registration remains much lower. In Highland, only 35.4 per cent of adults are with an NHS dentist, while in Grampian it drops to 32.1 per cent.
It means thousands of patients are left languishing on NHS waiting lists – with some having been told it could be five years before they get a place.
But the Grampian board said that, in the first ten months of 2008, more than 5,650 adults had been given NHS places and all under-16s had been placed with the NHS salaried service – dentists employed to work full-time for the NHS.
It said almost 6,000 of those on its waiting list had private dental provision but wanted to move to an NHS practice, while 3,440 were with an NHS dentist but wanted to move to another.
NHS Borders had 6,000 on the waiting list, compared with 2,500 last year. NHS Dumfries and Galloway also reported a big leap, from 836 to 8,244.
NHS Orkney had a waiting list of 1,500, NHS Shetland 2,182 and Western Isles 1,800.
All of Scotland's other health boards reported either having no waiting list at all, or said they did not collect these figures.
The total number on a waiting list for an NHS dentist in Scotland was 82,166.
Margaret Watt, of the Scotland Patients Association, said: "I think it is shocking. One of the most important things in life is having good oral hygiene. It is not right that anyone should be left waiting for a dentist. It is crucial to get more NHS dentists."
Dr Richard Simpson, Labour's public health spokesman, said that, when in power, his party had helped to create the new dental school in Aberdeen and increased funding for dentistry.
"A growing number of people without a dentist is going to create significant problems in due course," he said.
Shona Robison, the public-health minister, said: "Since May 2007, the Scottish Government has made steady progress to reverse the years of decline in NHS dentistry, which in time will see the unacceptable waiting lists that have built up in some parts of Scotland come down.
"In August, we announced capital funding of 75 million over the next two years for NHS boards to prioritise new and upgraded dental facilities, and we will shortly see the projects to be brought forward."
Toothache? We can see you in 2013
CAROLINE Dollemore-Hunt knows only too well the distress of being left on the waiting list for an NHS dentist.
She moved to Lybster, Caithness, with her husband, John, at the start of 2008 to run a croft. But when they tried to register with a local NHS dentist, they were shocked to find out they could face a wait of five years.
She later found out after contacting her local MSP that she was 6,836th on the waiting list for an NHS dental place.
Mrs Dollemore-Hunt, 47, had a nagging toothache that got worse as the year went on.
"Eventually, I got an emergency appointment with the NHS. It was a practice in Wick and the place was absolutely wonderful. I was treated by a lovely Polish lady.
"She found four teeth that had problems, but, as an emergency appointment, she could only treat one of them and was deciding which was the most painful so she could treat that one."
Eventually, Mrs Dollemore-Hunt's mother sent her money to have all the treatment she needed done privately. "You shouldn't have to borrow money off your relatives when you get to my age," she said.
How does your health board fare in figures?
The Scotsman asked every NHS board in Scotland to provide figures on the number of residents currently on waiting lists for NHS dental places this year and last year. These are the results:
NHS Ayrshire and Arran: No waiting list kept.
The board said it currently had 28 practices taking on new NHS patients.
NHS Borders: 6,000 on the waiting list as of 18 November, compared to 2,500 in November 2007.
NHS Dumfries and Galloway: 8,244 on waiting list as of 17 November – compared to 836 in 2007.
"Following expansion of General Dental Services within the Board's area since 2006, in excess of 40,000 patients have been allocated to NHS dental practices across the board's area."
NHS Fife: "There are no waiting lists kept in relation to independent NHS practitioners."
NHS Forth Valley: "NHS Forth Valley does not hold a centralised waiting list, this is held with each individual dental practice."
NHS Grampian: 30,936 on waiting list as of 17 November – compared to 26,165 in December last year. The board said that in the first ten months of 2008, it allocated 5,650 adults to NHS dental places. All children under 16 have also been removed from the waiting list and offered places with salaried dentists.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde: "We do not have a waiting list because no-one is waiting to register with a dentist within NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde"
NHS Highland: 31,504 on waiting list as of 14 November 2008 – up from 29,707 at the same time last year
"During the period 14 November 2007 and 14 November 2008 a total of 5,521 people were added to the list and 3,535 removed," the board said.
NHS Lanarkshire: No waiting list: "Patients in Lanarkshire are able to register with an NHS dentist and there are no waiting lists."
NHS Lothian: The board says it has never had a waiting list.
"The NHS Lothian Dental Enquiry Line is able to find a dentist for most, if not all, patients requiring an NHS dentist."
NHS Orkney: 1,500 on waiting list (as of 17 November)
"The figure was lower this time last year as we had only reopened the waiting list in September 2007, having been able to open the waiting list at all for three years," the board said.
"The figure was approximately 500 for November 2007.
"It is hoped that the current recruitment campaign will enable NHS Orkney to reduce this figure in 2009."
NHS Shetland: 2,182 on the waiting list as of 10 December, compared to 1,931 last year
NHS Tayside: "We do not hold centralised waiting list information for dental practices."
NHS Western Isles: Currently has 1,800 people on the waiting list, compared to 2,300 at the same time in 2007.
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