At least 12,000 NHS dental patients hit by closure of two North Wales practices
At least 12,000 NHS dental patients have been affected by a private health care company’s decision to close two North Wales practices.
The move by Bupa to close dental surgeries by February in Colwyn Bay and Caernarfon took patients by surprise last week, as the company had not informed them.
Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board said there had been more than 8,000 NHS patients treated at the Colwyn Bay Bupa practice and just over 4,200 in Caernarfon in the past two years.
It said the numbers don’t reflect the number of people actually affected but was the most accurate figure, as you don’t need to register at a dental surgery for treatment.
If 8,000 NHS patients is an accurate figure, it would represent around two-thirds of those using Colwyn Bay Bupa’s surgery.
The company said it is “working with the NHS and other nearby practices to help patients transfer to a new dentist”, however the capacity for another 12,000 people is just not there at the moment.
Arfon MS Sian Gwenllian said the closure in Caernarfon “is symptomatic of long-term problems in dental care”.
She added: “I am particularly concerned, of course, about those who cannot afford private health services and who therefore rely solely on NHS services.
“Over-reliance on the private sector appears to have resulted in huge gaps in service provision when companies choose to close branches.”
Dr Chris Stockport, Betsi Cadwaladr’s executive director of primary and community care, said the board will be commissioning replacement dental services “as early as possible”.
He said the board was also working on schemes to recruit and retain dental professionals.
However, he added: “Because of the timescales required to undertake this work, there will be a short period of time during which access to NHS dental services in North West Wales will, unfortunately, be limited.”
The news highlights a problem across North Wales with the provision of dentistry, which needs more urgent attention.
On Monday the British Dental Association (BDA) said some practices “simply can’t afford” an average of £10,000 needed for air purification equipment.
It is needed to guarantee Covid compliance with aerosol generating procedures – those which send particles of liquid into the air.
It also said the time between seeing patients, needed to clean and purify treatment rooms because of Covid, meant more than three-quarters of Welsh dentists were operating at less than half capacity.
Almost three-quarters were “reporting less focus on routine dentistry, as urgent and emergency cases receive needed priority”, meaning we could be storing up problems for the future as small dental issues become more serious.
The study reached a sobering conclusion that more practices like Bupa’s in Colwyn Bay and Caernarfon could follow suit and close down.
It said: “At present, 46% of practices estimate they are able to maintain their financial sustainability for 12 months or less.”
The BDA has called on Welsh Government to stump up “a package of capital funding” to get services back on track.
BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: “The clock is ticking on an oral health time bomb, as dentists lose the chance to act on the early signs of decay and oral cancer.
“Ministers have a choice. Make an investment that would pay for itself and bring tens of thousands back through our doors, or leave patients waiting for the care they need.”
A spokesman for Welsh Government said: “Routine dental examinations have not stopped and people are being seen according to need, but dentistry is one of the most complex areas of primary care and requires enhanced PPE and time between treatments to reduce the risk of coronavirus.
“But even with these strict measures in place to protect people from coronavirus, 22,000 people are now being seen in-person every week across Wales and a further 6,000 people are receiving advice and consultation or follow-up from their dental practice virtually.
“We are continuing to support dental practices during the pandemic – practices received 80% of their NHS annual contract value monthly payments between April and June 2020 and we suspended performance targets.
“Since August, practices have been paid between 80% and 100% of their contract value, depending on the level of services being delivered.”
By Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter
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