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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 November, 2003, 12:38 GMT
Islands face dental crisis
A visit to the dentists could mean a long journey
Islanders on Lewis and Harris are facing the prospect of travelling to the mainland to see a dentist due to a shortage in the islands.

The only practice in Stornoway has found it almost impossible to recruit dentists and there has been a call for services to be subsidised.

The lack of NHS dental services is affecting the whole of Scotland, especially rural areas.

The British Medical Association has criticised current incentive offers in Scotland as "sticking plaster solutions" and they called for more government cash aid to help attract dentists to rural areas

Kenneth MacDonald, who has run Stornoway's Bayhead dental practice for more than 20 years, said he had no choice to stop taking on new patients because he and his staff were under too much pressure.

He said that attracting more dentists to his practice was a problem because he could not compete with the private sector salaries and modern lifestyle choices.

People don't necessarily want to live in a large city, but they do want access to what cities have to offer
Kenneth MacDonald, Stornoway dentist
He said: "I decided I had to draw the line somewhere.

"We were running a waiting list procedure but it was just putting too much pressure on the staff.

"We are required to provide a high standard of care and we found that patient treatments which could have been administered quickly were just dragging on and on."

Bayhead sees about 750 patients a week but it has to turn away about 12 every day.

Commenting on his recruitment problems, Dr MacDonald said: "People don't necessarily want to live in a large city, but they do want access to what cities have to offer."

Dr MacDonald said that of the 18 dentists who have walked through his doors over the years he has yet to recruit one with a large amount of experience.

He added: "I think incentive in the short term anyway, is really the only method that works."

70,000 a year

By the end of the year the number of dentists at Bayhead will have fallen to four.

One recently took a position at a mainland private practice in Thurso after the job was advertised with an annual salary of 70,000 and a patient load of about 14 a day.

"I just can't compete with that," added Dr MacDonald. "That position attracted 23 applications and when I advertise it's sometimes difficult to get any interest at all."

John Lyon the chief administrator's dental officer for NHS Western Isles said the problems the area were suffering were in line with the general issues affecting dental services throughout Scotland.

However, he said that there was a fairly slim chance of islanders being taken on at non private practices in the mainland Highlands.

Commenting on the situation at Bayhead he said: "This is a historic problem and, indeed, it is a problem which is affecting dental services throughout Scotland."

He continued: "There has been a reduction in the number of dental graduates and it's also to do with changes in working practices.

"Dentists these days want to work less hours and a number of graduates do leave Scotland to work in England."

BBC Scotland's Craig Anderson
"Dentists on the islands are stretched to the limit"

Rural dentists' allowance doubled
14 Mar 03  |  Scotland
6m boost for NHS dental treatment
12 Feb 03  |  Scotland
'Golden hellos' to fill dentist gap
25 Apr 02  |  Scotland

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