Posted: Wed 25th Nov 2020

First Minister says Brexit partly to blame for closure of two North Wales dental practices

North Wales news and information

The First Minister has said that Brexit is partly to blame for the closure of two dental practices in North Wales.

At least 12,000 NHS dental patients have been affected by Bupa’s decision to close dental surgeries by February in Colwyn Bay and Caernarfon.

Many patients were taken by surprise by the announcement, as the private company had not informed them.

The issue was raised yesterday in the Senedd by Arfon MS Siân Gwenllian, who called for “urgent action” to tackle the problem and said people in her constituency were being let down by the “very real crisis”.

Although she welcomed last week’s announcement by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board regarding plans to create a new dental training unit in Bangor, the Plaid Cymru politician said it could be some time before it comes to fruition.

Ms Gwenllian said: “I understand that there will be a training centre for dentistry opening in north Wales, and that’s very good news, but it is two or three years away, and in the meantime, there is a very real crisis developing in my constituency.

“Part of the problem arises from the way in which the contracts work between dentists and the health board, and there has been a pledge for some time that this government would look in detail at what needs to be done in order to improve that situation.

“Can you make progress with that work now please? At the moment, people in my constituency are being let down.

“There is another dental surgery to close next year, and we truly require urgent action in this area.”

The training unit will support dentists from their foundation year right through to speciality level, whilst providing existing North Wales dentists with opportunities to improve their skills without having to leave the area.

Although a location for the proposed facility has not yet been identified, it is expected to consist of lecture and seminar rooms, hands on teaching facilities and clinical space.

The plans are being developed in response to difficulties recruiting and retaining dentists in North Wales – which has resulted in the closure of a number of practices across Anglesey, Gwynedd and Conwy in recent years.

First Minister Mark Drakeford responded to the Arfon MS by claiming that the implications of Brexit were harming dental services, with almost a fifth of staff coming from the EU.

He said: “We haven’t mentioned Brexit yet today, but Brexit has had a negative impact on dental services.

“Seventeen per cent of dentists employed by the major companies—and the major companies are the ones that are withdrawing from areas such as the north-west—are recruited from the European Union, and Brexit undermines that.

“As Siân Gwenllian was saying, the new dentistry unit in Bangor will assist, and the health board’s efforts to increase access to emergency dental services will help.

“Professor Paul Brocklehurst, the deputy chief dental officer, is based in north Wales, and he will be offering special support in responding to the challenge that is being faced in the Member’s constituency.”

As well working on longer term plans for the training, the region’s health board said it was taking immediate action to improve access to dentistry services.

This includes increasing the availability of urgent and priority dental care for patients who find themselves without a regular dentist, and identifying local practices with the capacity to temporarily increase provision of routine dental services.

In a statement released last week, Dr Chris Stockport, BCUHB’s Executive Director of Primary and Community Care, said: “There is a shortage of dentists across the UK, and providing the best possible education and training opportunities will undoubtedly help us to recruit and retain dentists her in north Wales.

“Our plans for a dental training unit will provide both newly qualified and established dentists with an opportunity to train, work and live in a beautiful part of the world.

“As part of our plans for a DTU and ongoing work to recommission replacement dental services, we will be seeking new and innovative ways of working that will make access to dentistry easier and reduce waiting times, whilst promoting self-care and good oral hygiene.

“We are working to mobilise these plans as quickly as possible. However, 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.”

Patients seeking an alternative NHS practice can find a list of services and their contact details on the NHS 111 Wales and Betsi Cadwaladr’s website.

Patients finding themselves in urgent need of a dentist and who have been unable to locate a practice that can accommodate them should contact NHS Direct Wales on 0845 4647 where they will triaged and, if appropriate, directed into an urgent access session.

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