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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Polish recruits bridge dental gap
Dentist - generic
Dentists are being imported from Poland
More than 30 Polish dentists are being brought to Scotland to help tackle a shortage in the NHS.

Thousands of people have been forced to re-register as private patients after their dental practices opted out of the health service.

The first of the 32 practitioners being recruited in Poland will start work early next year.

The initial 12 dentists will treat patients in Fife, Forth Valley and Argyll and Clyde.

A further 10 are due to arrive in April and the rest will be in their surgeries by September, according to Deputy Health Minister Lewis Macdonald.

He described the move as "great news."

We must still sort out difficulties with the dental profession and move stalled negotiations forward
Shona Robison
SNP health spokeswoman

"We want to give people the chance to opt out of private arrangements which they have been forced into and to return to the NHS, as we increase the number of directly employed NHS dentists across the country," he said.

"Our aim is to restore the balance so that patients who want to access NHS dental services can do so, wherever they live in Scotland."

The minister said: "We expect NHS boards to be looking at innovative ways of recruiting staff to their area and sourcing high-quality staff from outwith Scotland is an excellent way of doing this."

Worst hit areas

Mr Macdonald also revealed that a number of health boards were in talks with the UK's largest dentistry company.

It could be contracted to provide NHS treatment in the country's worst hit areas - such as Grampian, Highland, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders.

Mr Macdonald added: "These steps announced today will help ensure that increasing numbers of patients will be able to choose to access NHS dental services."

But political opponents said the measures did not go far enough.

Scottish National Party health spokeswoman Shona Robison said: "We must still sort out difficulties with the dental profession and move stalled negotiations forward."

Lewis Macdonald
Lewis Macdonald confirmed the recruitment plan

Conservative health spokeswoman Nanette Milne said: "There is still nothing on offer to stop NHS dentists from going into private practice, or attract back those who have already left."

She voiced surprise that the first dentists coming to Scotland were not going to the areas in most need of help.

The Scottish Socialists urged the Scottish Executive to pledge more funding to tackle the staff shortage.

SSP convener Colin Fox said: "I welcome the 32 new Polish dentists to Scotland. Apart from our desperate need for more dentists, this shows that the government, when they wish, can make use of skilled labour from other countries."

But Mr Fox added: "The executive needs to go much further in order to defend the future of NHS dentistry, both through providing adequate funding to keep dentists public and by providing more opportunities for training or retraining for those who wish to enter the profession."

The British Dental Association (BDA) also called the Polish recruitment drive a drop in the ocean, claiming the move would have very little impact on the experience of most Scots trying to access an NHS dentist.

"A longer-term solution to the problems facing NHS dentistry in Scotland can only be achieved through constructive dialogue between the Scottish Executive health department and the BDA," said Scottish director Dr Andrew Lamb.

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