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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 11:15 GMT
More dentists working in the NHS
Dentist
NHS dentists have been in short supply
Ministers say they have made significant progress in tackling the shortage of NHS dentists in England.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton announced a net increase of 1,100 extra full-time NHS dentists in the past year - 100 more than the target.

Student numbers also increased by 189 - above the target of a 25% increase, or 170 new places.

A shortfall of 2,000 dentists has meant many people have found it increasingly difficult to access NHS dentistry.

NHS dentistry is getting better
Rosie Winterton

In some parts of the country queues have formed around the block at new NHS surgeries.

However, the government said there has been an increase of 700,000 in the number of people registered with an NHS dentist in the year to October - increasing the total number to 24.4million.

New contract

The Department of Health pilot schemes to boost NHS access had been successful.

It also said giving primary care trusts more freedom to invest in local dentistry services, rather than relying on central planning, had helped increase dentists' commitment to the NHS.

In addition, ministers said a new contract for dentists would cut their workload, and offer a guaranteed annual NHS income.

However, dentists warned that the details of the new contract were still too sketchy.

Other moves touted by the government include offering dentists returning to the NHS from career breaks advice and support.

A total of 513 dentists have also been recruited from other EU countries - including 216 from Poland.

Ms Winterton said: "NHS dentistry is getting better, and we are doing all we can to keep increasing access to NHS dentistry.

"We know access to an NHS dentist has been a problem for people and that is why we started a year long recruitment campaign last July to bring more dentists to the NHS so more people can see an NHS dentist near where they live."

Targeted recruitment

Ms Winterton said areas with the most serious shortage of NHS dentists had been targeted.

These include South West Peninsula, North East Yorkshire, East Anglia, Shropshire, and the Isle of Wight.

Lester Ellman, of the British Dental Association, welcomed the fact that extra dentists had been recruited to work in the NHS, but said quick fix solutions would not solve the manpower shortage in the longer term.

He said: "There is no doubt that these new dentists are welcome within the NHS, but if the government is serious about tackling the current dental crisis it needs to take urgent steps to keep existing dentists within the NHS.

"Many dentists are questioning their future in the NHS as they are still waiting for information from the government about the new system and contract to be introduced in April next year."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "The government is seeking to impose a contract many dentists believe this is wrong.

"We need a contract that promotes good oral health and preventative work, one that enables dentists to combine NHS and private work."

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "Ministers are kidding themselves if they think that they are winning the battle to keep dentists in the NHS.

"Millions of people in this country are not registered with a dentist."


SEE ALSO:
NHS dentists 'can earn 250,000'
31 Oct 05 |  Health


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