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Dental practices in the Highlands are struggling to fill NHS patients in

By Alan Shields

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Just two dental practices across the Highlands are accepting new NHS patients, the Inverness Courier has discovered.

That means that anyone not currently registered with the public health service for dental work faces a long journey to get their teeth fixed – or go private.

NHS Highland said it has been struggling with capacity during the pandemic after a raft of safety measures had to be brought in to control coronavirus spread.

The health board admitted to the Inverness Courier that it could not say how many patients were waiting to be registered with dental practices across the region.

It is understood that one dental practice in Invergordon and one in Dingwall are the only two currently accepting new NHS patients.

An NHS Highland spokeswoman said: “Although dental practices could provide a full range of NHS treatments as of November 1, 2020, it has not yet been possible for dental practices to return to the pre-Covid volumes of patient treatments.

“This is due to the Covid health protection measures which remain in place.

“As a result, it has been necessary for dentists to prioritise appointments for patients requiring urgent dental care, those at greatest risk of oral disease and the backlog of patients from March 2020.

“A small number of practices are accepting new patients for NHS registration while other practices have waiting lists for new patients.

“Anyone seeking NHS registration should contact a dental practice directly to join their waiting list.

“Anyone that is not registered with a dentist and has a dental emergency should contact the NHS Highland Dental Helpline 0800 1412362 between the hours of 8.45am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Outwith these hours they should contact NHS 24 on 111.

“NHS Highland is monitoring the situation but cannot quantify the number of patients currently seeking NHS registration.

“It is hoped that any future change to the Covid health protection measures will lead to improved access to NHS dental services.

“In the meantime, plans are being worked up to increase access should this situation persist.”

Edward Mountain, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has condemned the situation.

He said: “The SNP government need to wake up to the scale of the dentistry crisis in NHS Highland and take urgent action now.

“It is unacceptable that there are only two dental practices who are able to take new registrations and also deeply concerning to learn that NHS Highland do not know how many are still waiting to be registered.

“A new long-term funding deal for NHS dentists is essential but in the meantime the SNP must not withdraw emergency dentistry funding on April 1 or more patients will be left waiting in agony for check-ups and treatments.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said:“We are rapidly moving forward with NHS dental recovery.

“The intention is to deliver increased levels of NHS dental care and clear the backlog, while maintaining financial support to NHS dental contractors.

“From April, we have announced revised payment arrangements which reward NHS dental teams according to their activity.

“This means that NHS dental practices will be incentivised for registering new patients.

“A number of areas will have arrangements meaning dentists providing NHS dental services can get up to £25,000 over two years.”

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