CONCERN FOR NHS PATIENTS

A COUNCILLOR has expressed his concern for NHS patients after a Holywood dentist announced he was switching his practice to exclusively private work.

Alliance councillor David Rossiter was one of the patients who received a letter from the dentist, who works at Shore Road Dental and Implant Clinic, announcing his intention to stop providing NHS dental services in April.

His decision means his patients will all now be treated as private patients, unless they can move to a dentist who treats NHS patients.

The move means that patients who were once paying ‘affordable’ NHS prices for dental treatment will now pay the higher privatised costs.

Most dentists working in dental practices are self-employed contractors and so can decide on what work they undertake, meaning that patients belong to a dentist and not a practice.

With NHS dentistry currently facing a funding crisis, many dentists are choosing to turn down NHS dental work, forcing patients to pay private fees or leave.

While the move will affect the patients belonging to the specific dentist at the practice, Shore Road Dental and Implant Clinic stated they provide, and will continue to provide, both private and NHS dentistry to children and adults.

However, a spokesperson for the practice noted that while a number of NHS patients remain registered at the practice, they would not be accepting any new ones.

Mr Rossiter said affordable dental care is essential for struggling communities, especially during a cost-of-living crisis.

“The current financial challenges dental practices face are undeniable, but we must not lose sight of our primary duty to residents who rely on NHS dental services,” he said.

“The broader context of this decision is the ongoing NHS dental funding crisis, which has forced many practices to reassess their service offerings.”

Mr Rossiter urged the practice to work actively with their patients and local health authorities to find alternative solutions in an attempt to preserve access to affordable dental care for the community.

“It is crucial that we collectively address the challenges facing the NHS dental sector and prioritise the health and well-being of our residents over financial considerations,” said councillor Rossiter, adding that the Department of Health needed to be ‘sufficiently financed’ to support NHS dental treatment in Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson for Shore Road Dental and Implant Clinic stated: “Dentists have personal and professional autonomy when it comes to their practice and last year a clinician at the Shore Road practice advised their NHS patients that after exhausting all other options they would cease provision of NHS services.

“No dentist underestimates the impact on NHS patients when a service is discontinued.”

The spokesperson added: “There are significant challenges in delivering NHS services for patients across the system and throughout Northern Ireland, however the Shore Road Dental and Implant Clinic, which is part of Portman, is committed to the rigorous management of resources to continue providing the highest standards of treatments for all patients.  

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said dentists are ‘not obliged’ to register new Health Service patients, which would entitle them to health service dental care with a specific dental practitioner.

However, there is a formal process which allows dentists to deregister patients, provided they inform the Business Services Organisation and inform their patients with at least three months’ notice. 

The spokesperson said: “The demand for private dentistry in Northern Ireland has increased and certainly some dental practices are committing more time to those patients, resulting in increased waiting lists for Health Service patients.

“The Department has invested an additional £90m in general dental services via the Financial Support Scheme and Rebuilding Support Scheme since April 2020. This came to an end in July 2023 due to the severe financial pressures arising from the Department’s 2023/24 budget settlement.

“In terms of sustaining dental services into the future, the Department remains committed to dental reform and wants to implement the increase in dental fees to dentists as soon as the funding is made available to the Department as part of the overall public sector pay arrangements.”