Rayleigh dental practice defends scrapping NHS care

A dental practice has defended its decision to stop providing NHS care – despite rising living costs squeezing household incomes.

Among those criticising the decision of Dentex – which bought the Essex Smile Centre in Rayleigh at the beginning of the month – is Councillor James Newport (Lib Dem, Downhall and Rawreth) who has added that with the influx of housing and pressures on dental practices the area needs more funding.

Dentex has said the decision “was not taken lightly” but that because of recruitment of NHS dentists its only option was to hand back the contract as it could not fulfil its conditions.

It points to findings from FMC – a UK based dental publishing and communications company- that almost three quarters of dentists are looking to abandon NHS dentistry within two years.

Cllr Newport said that all the same the decision will affect families.

It comes despite the NHS providing patients with hundreds of thousands more dental appointments, thanks to a £50 million funding injection. The east of England is getting an extra £5.7m

Cllr Newport said: “The point is that there is a severe lack of NHS dental services available in the locality.

“I have faced this issue myself and I have had to go to a different town to get an NHS dentist.

“I know that lot of people are struggling with the cost of living.”

He added: “Kids are free on the NHS – now they can charge for children dentistry. That for me is no go. It should be free for children.

“They shouldn’t have this cost attached and parents are going to struggle to pay.”

A spokesperson for Dentex said: “Our partnership model means that we do not dictate how our practices should care for their patients or how the dentists practice their clinical freedom in providing this care.

“The decision at The Essex Smile Centre was not taken lightly. The issue we face is recruitment of NHS dentists which in this instance meant our only option was to hand back the contract as we could not fulfil its conditions. This is something that is experienced in the wider dental community, as outlined in this recent article and survey by FMC.”

Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee said last year: “The pandemic has wiped out access for millions and taken a hammer blow to the workforce, with many now looking for the exit.

“Practices have managed to hit punitive targets but at a terrible cost. Churning through appointments against the clock in heavy-duty PPE now risks an exodus from this service.

“Fixing NHS dentistry will be impossible if dentists are left unwilling to work in it. We need a clear road map that lifts restrictions, provides needed support to all practices and makes a decisive break with a broken contract.”

Owners of the Essex Smile Centre Dr Declan Keane and Dr Stephen Keane decided to sell in order to free themselves from ownership, but they plan to work at the practice post-completion to see it grow and to continue to forge lasting relationships with their patients.

Speaking on behalf of the company, director of partnership and acquisitions, Mr Oliver Snowden, said following its purchase, “I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome the team at Essex Smile Centre to the Dentex family. Personally, this acquisition means a lot as I’ve known Declan and Stephen Keane for a number of years and have been amazed at the successful growth the practice continues to achieve. It offers and excellent mix of general, specialist and NHS treatments in an excellent location and will be a great asset to add to our portfolio.

“The principals and their operations manager have created a business they should be so proud of and now, in partnership with Dentex, we hope to build on the reputation already established.

“This partnership is one of a number that Dentex have completed in 2021 and we look forward to even more great practices joining our group in the next few months.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter