Angry dentists quit the NHS in droves

STOP THE ROT Ninety practices refuse to sign new contract Mike Waites Health Correspondent ONE in nine dental practices in Yorkshire have quit the NHS amid anger over their new contracts.

Ninety practices out of 800 in the region have left for the private sector according to figures compiled by the Yorkshire Post – the first to show the take-up of the deal which came into force on April 1.

Last night dentists and MPs blamed the Government for the exodus.

Worst hit have been Harrogate, north Leeds, York and East Yorkshire. Only six dental practices in South Yorkshire have quit and none are leaving in Calderdale or North Lincolnshire.

More than 100,000 patients are estimated to have been affected, including 35,000 in Leeds.

Health chiefs said yesterday they are already commissioning new services, claiming many dentists who have left were treating only small numbers of NHS patients.

But there are also concerns many more dentists are considering pulling out of the health service. The majority signing new deals have done so "in dispute" raising the prospect of legal wrangling for months to come.

Figures show nearly a third of Harrogate's 20 dental practices have pulled out of the NHS. In Leeds 29 out of 138 practices have turned down the deal while in York 10 practices – a third of the total – have quit, affecting about 10,000 patients.

A third of practices in East Yorkshire have also quit although NHS officials say they have commissioned 90 per cent of the care they wanted.

Tory MP for Beverley and Holderness Graham Stuart said: "If we continue like this very soon it will be possible to judge the social class of someone by the state of their teeth.

"If you are poor or don't have transport you won't get an NHS dentist whether you are a child or an adult and I think it's a disgrace."

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, branded the contract a "shambles".

"It's absolutely appalling for a Government to have reduced dentistry to this sort of level. I'm concerned it will lead to a large deterioration in the nation's dental health which, particularly for young people, will have massive costs in future years."

Labour's John Grogan said an extra 5,000 NHS patients were due to be treated in his Selby constituency in the next year while 10,000 places were planned in York to replace those lost.

But he admitted it was "disappointing" a quarter of practices had quit in the Selby and York Primary Care Trust (PCT) area.

"The most dire predictions certainly haven't come true. About the same number will be treated in York and there will be a modest increase in Selby but obviously we want to do better than that," he said.

Susie Sanderson, chairman of the British Dental Association and an NHS dentist who has signed "in dispute" in Sheffield, said she was not surprised by the numbers leaving amid continuing confusion about the contract and serious concerns about the future of NHS dentistry.

There had been little consultation by the Government with the profession about the new deal leaving PCTs to "pick up the pieces" in the face of "pretty inept" Department of Health guidance which was issued so late some dentists only received their contracts last week, she added.

Graham Porter, a dentist in Cottingham, near Hull, and chairman of East Riding Local Dental Committee, said he had signed the contract to treat children but would be quitting the NHS within months once he had alternative arrangements in place.

"Patients are very often going to be paying more for treatment and are going to be getting a worse service," he said.

"There is no incentive for the dentist towards continuing care and preventive treatment in the new contract."

Health Minister Rosie Winterton defended the deal.

She said: "There is clear evidence that dentists signing up to the new contract represent the bulk of NHS dental services and that the majority of those rejecting the contract do not have a large commitment to the NHS."

n The Yorkshire Post's Stop the Rot campaign is calling for better provision of affordable NHS dental services for thousands being denied access to care in Yorkshire.