Dental desert: Thousands losing access to NHS dentists in Dumfries & Galloway

Dental care. Credit: PA

NHS dental services in Dumfries and Galloway are "beyond crisis point", local MSP Colin Smyth has warned.

Analysis from Representing Border suggests around 23,000 patients will have lost access to NHS dental treatments in the period from November 2022 to July 2023.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway has confirmed it is not aware of any local practices which are taking on new NHS patients, meaning adults who have been deregistered face paying for private care, or travelling to a clinic outside the region.

The following practices have deregistered patients:

  • Gretna Dental Practice stopped NHS care in November, affecting 2,400 adult patients.

  • Thornhill followed suit in December, impacting 3,800 patients.

  • Gardenhill in Castle Douglas closed in January, meaning 4,400 patients losing access.

  • Blue Door in Dumfries announced five thousand patients would be deregistered in March, followed by 5,000 in June. 

  • In July around 1,200 patients at Gunning Dental Practice in Langholm will be deregistered, and about 800 at the organisation's branch in Annan (private services will continue in Annan, but not Langholm).

Grace Baxter, who is 90, says losing access to NHS dental care in Langholm will be "devastating".

She says she will not pay for private care because she would struggle to afford it, and would have to rely on an unreliable bus service to travel to Annan for treatment.

The deregistering of NHS patients at local dentistry practices already appears to be having an impact, as data from Public Health Scotland shows between January and March 2023 there were just over 12,000 NHS dental examinations in Dumfries and Galloway.

Over the same time period in 2019, more than 24,000 NHS examinations took place.

Scottish Labour MSP Colin Smyth has called for the government to step in, accusing ministers of acting like "rabbits in the headlights".

The Public Health Minister says the Scottish Government is in the process of creating a new payments system for NHS dental services, which will be "provide longer term sustainability to the sector, encouraging dentists to provide NHS care".

Jenni Minto MSP says it will provide dentists with "greater clinical freedom".

However, dental businesses in Dumfries and Galloway continue moving away from NHS care, despite knowing a new payments system is being introduced.

Local dental practices have outlined a number of reasons for moving to private care, including rising running costs, recruitment problems, issues with the current NHS payments system, and the care backlog caused by the pandemic.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway says it acknowledges the "serious challenges" around local dental care, and has set up a task force to work with the Scottish Government to bring about improvements.

In a statement, the health board continues: "As lack of dental workforce is a key challenge, this is not a situation that we can rectify easily or quickly".

"We are looking at options to increase access to NHS dental care in particularly underserved areas, increasing access to emergency dental service provision across the region, and increasing our capacity to respond to calls for advice and support through our local dental helpline."