Martin Goss for Colchester

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by leesmith on 26 February, 2024

A LEADING Colchester dentist says there needs to be a rethink of NHS contracts with dental practices.

The shortage of NHS dentists around the country has seen long queues outside temporary mobile dentist surgeries.

Research, commissioned from the House of Commons Library by the Liberal Democrats, found some 82,704 children – 44.9% – in the area covered by the Suffolk and North-East Essex Integrated Care Board were not seen by an NHS dentist in the year to June 2023.

Figures also revealed the number of adults in the area suffering the same problem was 453,813 – 60.7%.

Dr Stephen Pitt, Principal Dentist at The Dental Studio in Bergholt Road, supports reforms to the NHS contract system.

He said: “This is all down to the way they changed the contracts. When I first qualified, we worked on the basis of you were paid for what you did. Some people may have abused the system but on the whole it worked well.

“What it became was three pay bands, so if you did one filling you ended up being paid the same amount as if you had 20 fillings. What that then meant was that you had practices being scared to take on new patients as they might bring a whole heap of problems.

“I worked under this system for many years but what happened is they never increased my banding, my money. Effectively it meant we were being paid what we were 10 years ago and you are starting to make more of a loss.

“People need access to dentists, especially those in severe pain and emergencies because that is tying up A&E’s time, out-of-hours doctors’’ time as one area of the service has a big impact on the whole healthcare service.”

Dr Pitt was hosting a visit by Martin Goss, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Colchester, and Amalia Rowe Head of Oral Health Science at Essex University to acknowledge a work placement partnership scheme.

Martin said: “Regrettably, like so many dentists, Stephen has had to come out of the NHS. The lack of proper funding for NHS dentistry has seen dentists understandably voting with their feet and withdrawing from the scheme.

“The Liberals Democrats want to reform that contract so it pays fairly. Cost-effective measures like hygienists can actually reduce the burden on the NHS. Hopefully that may attract more dentists back but my worry is the system has gone too far and will take many years to get dentists back on the books.

“This is also happening with pharmacies, where the NHS is doing the same and why many are closing because they are actually losing money of dispensing various prescriptions.

Essex University has one of the largest portfolios of oral health science courses in the East of England and many of its students gain valuable experience thanks to the link-up with dental practices in the Colchester area.

In all, the University has 30-40 placements at different practices, many in this region and Mrs Rowe said: “What is fantastic is the partnerships we create and I think what the students get out of it is that real world experience and engaging with the community and patients and their real-life experiences.”

Dr Pitt said: “This partnership helps the students treat a broad range of people not just the specialist cases referred to a hospital. It means they are basically seeing what they will do when they are qualified.

“From our perspective this helps, because the more time the students get in practice helps our patients to be re-educated on how to prevent problems. The great thing about this partnership is we are able to give a lot of information to our patients on a regular basis to reinforce the causes of dental issues and help prevent bigger problems happening.”

Dr Pitt also pointed to the increasing need for more dentists following the Covid pandemic and added: “The cost of living isn’t just affecting the way they live, it also affects their teeth, with people suffering from stress tending to clench, which puts 10 times more pressure on your teeth

“We are seeing more breakages of teeth or teeth just wearing down so we need a process of monitoring that more closely.”

See the full interview at:

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