VILLAGERS who have to make a 112-mile round trip to their nearest dentist are demanding health chiefs establish a local surgery close to their town.
Almost half the residents of Durness have signed a petition urging NHS Highland to provide a practitioner closer to them.
The nearest surgery is 56 miles away in Lairg, but many residents are registered at surgeries in Inverness, the nearest city, which is more than 100 miles away. The journey takes almost three hours each way by car, or four hours by public transport.
One patient opted to have treatment without anaesthetic to avoid the need for a costly return trip to the dentist, according to Kevin Crowe, chairman of the Lairg Community Council.
A survey by the council revealed the average cost of a trip to the dentist is £88 – based on mileage costs and loss of earnings – and does not include the potential cost of treatment.
The research was prompted by growing concern at the cost and inconvenience of travelling so far for regular dental check-ups and treatment.
In recent weeks, the community council has surveyed villagers who have used NHS dental services over the past year. They collated information about the number of dental appointments, type of treatment, distances travelled and how much time residents required off work to make those appointments.
Durness has been without a dentist for about a decade.
Mr Crowe said each visit required people of working age to take time off. He highlighted the added inconvenience for the self-employed, plus the burden of the area’s higher fuel costs.
The community council calculated the cost of trips from Durness to Lairg based on fuel, vehicle wear and tear, and with reference to Highland Council’s staff travel allowance rate of 45p per mile. It also takes into account loss of income based on the minimum wage.
Mr Crowe said: “If this is multiplied by the number of dental visits annually, this would represent a substantial loss to the economy of Durness.
“The most shocking revelation was that at least one person chose to have treatment without anaesthetic rather than having to make yet another journey. That isn’t 21st-century dentistry, it’s 19th-century dentistry.
“It’s appalling it could be costing people more than £88 a visit to get to a dentist and before any treatment costs are taken into account. I would remind NHS managers we are supposed to have a national health service.”
Highland councillor George Farlow has pledged his support for the community’s case.
He said: “There’s a real need for equality across the Highlands, for not just dental care but all NHS services, simply because we’re driving people away from the Highlands to areas where they can get treatment and they can be looked after.”
NHS Highland said concerns have been raised at the distances patients in north-west Sutherland must travel to access dental services, and that the health board’s clinical dental director would meet groups next month.