Dental patients in Pembrokeshire have been affected by what some have described as an underhand decision by health chiefs in the region.
4,000 people in the Welsh region will be affected by the withdrawal of the NHS license from a dental practice at Narberth Health Centre.
The move means that the whole of east Pembrokeshire will be without NHS dental provision after Thursday March 31.
Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the decision has been subjected to massive criticism in the region.
The Narberth practice had previously been operating on a temporary contract following the death in May 2014 of Dr Huw Jones; a dentist who had been in practice in the area for the best part of four decades.
With dental provision in the region patently unsatisfactory, it has been announced that the local health board is seeking a replacement, indicating that it will be based in the south Pembrokeshire area.
Nonetheless, former Narberth mayor, Councillor Sue Rees, has expressed her fury and dismay at the decision of the local authority.
“I have been assured that the practice is not the instigator of this action: on the contrary, they want to stay with the NHS. I cannot understand why this decision has been made, or how it has been allowed to go forward without any consultation. Narberth practice serves a very large area, and we need to stop this closure from happening.”
Owing to the criticism, Hywel Dda Health Board indicated that a robust procedure was currently underway to address the situation, and that dental provisions for local people should improve in the foreseeable future.
“Following the death of a contractor, a temporary General Dental Services Contract was established to provide continuity of care for patients in Narberth. The temporary contract will cease on March 31, 2016. The Health Board is currently undertaking a commissioning process for replacement General Dental Services in the South Pembrokeshire area, which is due to be completed shortly.”
However, the aforementioned Rees was far from convinced by the comments of the board, describing its explanation as insulting.
“They have not even had the decency to inform the 3,800 patients concerned that, from April 1, they will no longer have NHS dental provision. Hywel Dda cannot be allowed to withdraw this service until they have produced an alternative provision. This decision has been totally underhand and they were obviously hoping to complete the closure before anyone found out.”
Meanwhile, the Member of Parliament for the region, Simon Hart, has taken up the concerns of local residents, and is challenging the health board to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.
“How the Tooth was a great loss to the community – he was my family dentist for many years – and his temporary replacement has been doing a great job since his sad death. I was made aware as long ago as December 2014 that keeping his NHS contract in Narberth was under threat. I contacted the health board to urge them to keep the hours in the town but was told only that they would be retained ‘in south Pembrokeshire’. Sure enough, they were awarded to an existing Pembroke practice.”
Hart was particularly critical of the lack of a transparent process, and an apparent unwillingness on behalf of the health board to pay heed to opinion in the region.
“I am disappointed that the health board has not listened to residents – this decision leaves the whole of east Pembrokeshire with no NHS dental provision.”