ONE IN seven islanders on Skye are on the waiting list for an NHS dentist, leaving many with a 200-mile round trip for treatment.
A total of 1,630 people – nearly 13 per cent – are currently waiting to register with a dental practice due to a historical lack of dentists.
Many needing check-ups or treatment are being forced to travel 113 miles to Inverness, or 102 miles to Dingwall or to Fort William, 108 miles away.
The situation has arisen despite the opening of a £1.2 million clinic in Portree last year which NHS Highland promised would improve islanders’ access to services.
The organisation said the waiting list had built up in the past due to a shortage of dentists but medical chiefs are now confident that the list will be accommodated eventually.
There are currently four dental practices in the area - one each at Portree and Dunvegan on Skye and two at Kyle of Lochalsh, on the mainland side of the Skye Bridge, which serve the southern end of the island.
Catriona Leslie, of Portree, said she was forced to register with a dentist at Dingwall, in Ross-shire, due to the difficulties in getting a dentist on Skye.
She said: “I used to see a private dentist in Portree and signed on at Dingwall when that dentist left about five years ago.
“I didn’t even bother trying to sign on for an NHS dentist on Skye because I knew there was a waiting list of more than 1,000.
“Dingwall is a long way to go to see a dentist, but there was no alternative. I would much prefer to see an NHS dentist close to home, if that was possible.”
Portree and Braes Community Council chairman David Hearn agreed there was a serious problem with access to dental care on Skye.
He said: “The new clinic in Portree is first class, but there are a lot of people who have to go farther afield because there are no vacancies at the practice and there is a long waiting list.
“I know of people who are travelling to Dingwall, Fort William or Inverness to see a dentist.
“We would obviously like to see the local practice able to accommodate all the people who need dental treatment here.”
Highland councillor Drew Millar, who lives in Portree, said they were disappointed the new clinic in the town had not resolved the situation.
Mr Millar added: “When the new dental clinic was opened in Portree, we thought it would solve a lot of the problems, but there still seems to be far too long a waiting list.
“I’m at a loss as to why the situation hasn’t improved here. In this day and age, it is pretty ridiculous that people are having to travel so far to see a dentist.
An NHS Highland spokesman said: “Following some challenges around the recruitment of dentists, the current complement of staff was in place by February 2013.
“The waiting list is decreasing and all patients will be accommodated by the existing practices.”
“An additional 452 patients have been registered since March 2012 and additional access to emergency care for those not registered with a dentist has been provided.”