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North Devon dentistry to be abandoned

Saturday, 18 November 2023 09:01

By Alison Stephenson, local democracy reporter

Teeth dentist dental generic (Image courtesy: Caroline LM / Unsplash)

No experts attend meeting to debate lack of NHS care

North Devon councillors have claimed that dentistry is being abandoned after experts failed to attend an important meeting this week.

Representatives from NHS Devon, Plymouth University and dentists themselves were invited to talk to North Devon Council’s policy development committee about the lack of NHS provision in the ara, but they refused.

Cllr John Patrinos (Ind, Lynton and Lynmouth) said he was saddened but not surprised at “the refusal of anyone with professional knowledge of the delivery of dentistry and orthodontics to talk to us.”

He told the committee that one person said they were not willing to discuss the matter again having already done so at a health care scrutiny meeting in Devon, and sent a link so councillors could view that meeting instead.

“We have been fobbed off with internet links when people are in pain.”

Cllr Peter Jones (Ind, Witheridge) said it was “horrendous that no-one had turned up to the meeting.”

“What is our society coming to when an entire area of healthcare is being absolutely abandoned,” he said.

NHS Devon figures show 6,287 people are on NHS dental waiting lists in North Devon and Torridge, of which 1,183 are children. Across Devon, almost 100,000 people are waiting to see a dentist.

Cllr Patrinos said the “strange payment system” imposed by the government meant dentists receive the same payment from the NHS for a patient who requires 10 fillings as for a patient who needs just one.

“Treating a patient earns three Units of Dental Activity (UDA) points, regardless of the length and expense of the procedure. Every practice has to meet an annual UDA target. So there is no incentive to practise preventive dentistry, and every incentive to exclude the patients with the greatest needs.

“To make it even worse, the NHS allocates dental funding to areas, like Devon, on the assumption that about one in six people won’t need any care and about one in three are treated privately. So funding is given for half the population, and the money per person isn’t enough to pay for their treatment. “

He quoted an example from a dentist who said there is a £1,350 difference between what the NHS pays and private fees in the case of a patient needing four hours of surgery to extract two teeth and receive several fillings.

Cllr Patrinos said there is no orthodontist in North Devon to adjust children’s braces as their mouths grow.  He claimed that Ukrainian refugees in the district were flying back to their home country for dental treatment because they couldn’t find it here.

He said he had tried to get a NHS dentist to open in Lynton after 1,000 residents sign a petition, but it didn’t come to fruition because of funding issues. Residents in this part of North Devon have to travel 20 miles to see a dentist, he said.

Cllr David Clayton (Lib Dem, Barnstaple with Westacott) said dentistry had been flagged up by North Devon’s Conservative MP Selaine Saxby since she was elected and he hoped she would to more to raise the issue in parliament.

Members agreed to write to her to ask her to make dentistry the thrust of a private members’ bill, which allow her to try to get an issue made law.

Ms Saxby said last year the government reformed dental contracts so dental practices can maximise the number of NHS patients they can see.

In April, dental contracts becamethe responsibility of Integrated Care Boards, and the government is considering how to speed up the recruitment of overseas’ dentists.

But she said the changes are not happening soon enough. “Whilst I welcome the long term plans the government is bringing in for more dentists in areas like North Devon, concrete steps need to be taken now so that people’s health is not negatively affected,” she said.

“I urge everyone in North Devon to sign this petition which I will take back to Westminster as a demonstration of just how much immediate action is needed.”

The petition is at


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