I am writing this open letter in response to the dentistry situation we currently face across the Bury St Edmunds constituency.
I agree with constituents that NHS dentistry provision in Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket has been lacking for some time. NHS England’s role is to commission to need, but across Suffolk and specifically in Bury St Edmunds we have challenges, in part because dentists are private contractors and do not have to take on NHS work should they not wish to.
Bury has always had a very significant private dental market and the NHS provision has struggled with sustainability due to the competition as well as other factors. However, there are now even less NHS dental practices in and around Bury due to further recent changes by some NHS dental providers who have decided not to continue with NHS patients. NHSEI is looking to procure new NHS dental services in our part of the region based on a more sustainable model.
I have forcefully raised my concerns at the highest level on a number of occasions regarding the provision of dentistry in Bury St Edmunds. During my time as a Minister in the Department of Health several areas across the country were reflective of this challenge, from Cornwall to Cumbria and indeed here in Suffolk; I championed them all. Whilst the solutions are not easy, I believe more can be done to ensure residents of Bury and the surrounding areas can see an NHS dentist for treatment. To this end I will be continuing to demand action to ensure we gain additional NHS dental provision in Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket
In the short term I have been assured by the Chief Dental Officer & NHSEI that several NHS practices have supported patients with increased capacity to see new NHS patients, but not all of these practices are accessible to those with limited transport. We were recently advised that a practice in Ely was able to treat an NHS patient from Bury, but this is not a suitable solution for all. The NHSEI team are keen to improve dental services in Suffolk and are aware of the specific difficulties that a rural area presents.
Recruitment and retention of dentists remains a limiting factor in large parts of East Anglia and the Local Dental Network (LDN) are working closely with Health Education England to improve the retention of Foundation Dentists in our region. There are some excellent Foundation Dentist practices and training schemes in East Anglia and it is critical that we retain those newly qualified dentists post their foundation year. Unfortunately, many young dentists seek the bright lights of larger cities and opportunities therein, which is a problem across many professions.
I want to hear the views of people who are unable to access dental services in the Bury St Edmunds constituency and to facilitate this I will be holding an online dentistry summit on Tuesday 12th October from 9:30-10:15am. Please email Jo.firstname.lastname@example.org to register for the event.
Rest assured I will continue to constantly raise this issue with Ministers, NHSEI, the regional commissioner and the Chief Dental Officer, to ensure we get greater provision, better access and more services in both Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket. This is an unacceptable situation that I will continue to challenge. For anyone who cannot access a dentist NHS111 is available if it is an emergency and if not you are advised to contact NHS England's Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233.