The state of the dental service in Shetland is laid bare in a letter which will be sent to those on a lengthy waiting list.
Hundreds of people are waiting to be registered with the Public Dental Service to be seen for the first time. They will be warned they “will be taken off the list unless they contact the service by mid-July,” according to a press release issued by NHS Shetland this afternoon.
However, contacting the service does not guarantee an appointment.
Those who do get in touch will be encouraged to contact independent dentists who are also able to do NHS work.
The statement reads: “This week we will be writing to people on the NHS Shetland Public Dental Service (PDS) Waiting List to encourage them to consider registering with Independent NHS dentists. This recognises that with the current number of dentists working for our PDS and the number of registered patients the service is already supporting, that patients on our waiting list are unlikely to be seen in the future.
“We are also finding that existing patients are waiting longer than we would want for their treatment and ‘check-ups’.
“Because of this we have agreed to prioritise access to our PDS service for those patients who require additional support; those that have particular clinical needs and for children.”
NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts said he recognised that the latest development in the under-pressure service would be “frustrating” for those who on the waiting list. But he said it was important to be honest about “the likelihood of the service being able to expand to accommodate them”.
In Lerwick there are 520 people waiting to register, with a further 52 in Brae. NHS Shetland says each of them was written to almost two years ago when the Lerwick Dental Practice opened. It is independent but offers NHS treatment.
Mr Roberts added: “It is also important that our Public Dental Service is able to focus on the patients with most need. We also know that there are alternative dental providers in Lerwick, including those who provide NHS care under the same regulations as our dentists, who have capacity to see patients.
“I would therefore encourage anyone who needs to see a dentist to consider registering with a different dental practice. Meanwhile, I can confirm that the PDS is working hard to maintain a dental service to the more remote areas of Shetland, for example the isles, where an independent service is unlikely to be viable.
“I can also confirm that we are actively working to encourage further independent practices to open in Shetland to provide NHS dental care.”
Overall there are in excess of 19,000 people registered with the Public Dental Service across the isles.
The dental service is continuing its efforts to encourage more independent practices to open and address the shortfall in provision. There are also plans to review the number of dentists in the PDS with a view to employing the maximum number affordable within the budget granted by the Scottish government.
Shetland has a dentist to patient ratio well below the national average. In the isles there is one dentist for every 2,083 patients whereas the Scottish average is one to 1,670.