New figures have revealed that Carlisle’s 23,000-strong waiting list for an NHS dental place has finally been cleared.
Since the height of the crisis last year, enough new places have been created to wipe out the city’s huge backlog.
The news coincides with the official opening of a new practice in Penrith, which will eventually treat 7,500 new patients. It means that all north Cumbrians will soon have access to a qualified NHS dentist.
Cumbria’s NHS dental crisis came to a head in 2005-06 when increasing numbers of dentists started leaving the NHS to go into private practice on a national scale.
One Cumbrian dentist, Richard Wilson, made national headlines when he decided to halve his patient list in Carlisle and Penrith and go private.
Fearing they would be left with no dentist at all, hundreds of desperate patients queued through the night outside the two surgeries to sign up under the private system.
The crisis then saw the dental database overloaded with calls from NHS patients trying to find a new practice, forcing the PCT to bring in extra staff to man the phones.
The PCT has received national praise for the way it has handled the crisis, working hard to offset the dentist shortage through an international recruitment drive and setting up new practices. Since the height of the crisis last year, a total of 34 new dentists have come to the county.
Gwyn Jones, commissioning lead for dental services in north Cumbria, said the Penrith practice will make a significant difference.
‘This new practice makes a substantial contribution to NHS dental capacity in the area,’ she said. ‘It is a result of the PCT taking action to replace the capacity lost in practices that were not prepared to see adult patients under the new dental contract.’