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New plan raises hopes of seeing NHS dentist

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Long-term plans to tackle West Norfolk’s “dental desert” have been announced, with access to free NHS services and children’s oral health top of the list.NHS Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board (ICB) published its Long-Term Dental Plan for NHS services this week using feedback from more than 2,000 people.The plan lays out the key priorities for the next five years to improve services following the ICB’s own scathing report last year into the state of NHS dentistry in the region.

NHS dentists – coming soon to a town near you?

The plan seeks to reduce health inequalities by improving access to services, with an initial focus on children and young people plus those living in areas of deprivation. It will also promote oral health education and prevention.Last year’s report by the ICB, released in September, found five-year-olds in the borough had the highest levels of tooth decay in the entire Eastern region – with almost one in four already suffering poor oral health.The report had been commissioned after shocking scenes last May when hundreds queued up in King’s Lynn High Street in the hope of grabbing one of a handful of new NHS places announced at a dental practice. Alongside its new plan the ICB also announced investment of £1.2 million to recruit, retain and support those in the profession.Local councillors welcomed the news but warned it was just “the first step”.Jo Rust, cabinet member for people and communities at West Norfolk Council, said: “We’ve been concerned about this for some time and that was the reason why I submitted a motion to full council last October. This is a good start and a long-term road to improving dental services in our area. However, it is just the start of the journey and we all know there is much more to be done.” Improving patient access to NHS dental services, increasing the number of dentists and dental care professionals working in the area, and improving oral health in children and adults are some of the key aims for the plan. The ICB said it hopes the measures will help create a reduction in the shift to private dental practice and referrals to secondary care for extractions.“A dental school is the best way to train, recruit and retain dentists locally, so everyone who wants to can be on the books of an NHS dentist. This golden opportunity to transform the dental desert of West Norfolk into an oasis of dental health should not be missed again. “Health inequalities are growing in deprived areas and are set to get worse.”The ICB said its plan will build up the number of dentists and dental care professionals, while further developing enhanced services, such as surgery and emergency care. Orthodontic services for children will also be a priority.The ICB said it recognises there are “challenges to overcome to improve patient access to NHS dental services” and sustainable improvement “will take time”.Sadie Parker, director of primary care at NHS Norfolk and Waveney, added: “We know how challenging it is for patients to access NHS dental services and through our plan we are totally committed to doing all we can to stablise and improve dental care so that people can access the treatment they really need.”

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