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Town with fewest dentists; Nationwide NHS shortage highlighted as Merseyside region has worst rates.

Byline: ALAN WESTON

ELLESMERE Port and Neston was last night revealed as having the fewest NHS dentists to serve the local population.

The nationwide shortage was graphically illustrated in a study in the International Journal of Health Geographics, which showed the UK to be lagging well behind Europe and the US.

Queues of hundreds of would-be patients outside new NHS surgeries and stories of people travelling abroad to see a dentist have all added to pressure on the government to tackle the issue.

The latest study uses a ``traffic light'' system to show those areas with the fewest dentists to serve their local population.

The highest density of dentists in England was in Westminster, 8.8dentists per 10,000 people, while the lowest was Ellesmere Port and Neston at 1.6.

Last night Cllr Myles Hogg, Conservative group leader on Ellesmere Port and Neston Council and vice- chairman of the local primary care trust (PCT), called the results of the survey ``very distressing''.

He said: ``I firmly believe that prevention is better than cure and that an NHS dentist should be freely available to all who want one.

``There are large numbers of people who have no choice but to pay to see a dentist privately. We need to encourage dentists who are willing to work under the NHS.''

The study used census data to put together a map which showed most of England and Wales bathed in red, those areas with less than four NHS dentists per 10,000 people. Amber areas were those with 4- 5 dentists per 10,000,and green indicated five or more practitioners.

Researchers Maged Boulos,of the University of Bath,and Guy Picton Phillipps,of Brent NHS Primary Care Trust in London, found that only 26 of the 304PCTs in England compared favourably with the rest of Europe and the US.

Overall the average number of NHS dentists per 10,000 people in England was 3.7 and in Wales it was 3.6.

This compared with more than five dentists per 10,000 people in Austria,Italy and Poland, six in the US and nine in Finland.

The researchers said: ``Dentists tend to be concentrated in major cities and urban centres and away from some of the deprived or less-populated urban and rural communities.''

They suggested that in the short-term the situation could be remedied by reallocating dentists from areas with a surplus to neighbouring areas with shortages, where their traffic light map could prove useful.

The authors noted that increasing the overall number of NHS dentists by just one dentist per 10,000 people would need an extra 5,250 dentists.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said the situation was even worse than the map showed.

``Although they are recorded as NHS dentists,many may only spend a small proportion of their time treating NHS patients.''

The Department of Health said it recognised there were areas in England where access to NHS dentistry could be very difficult and it was committed to increasing capacity. A spokeswoman said: ``We have invested pounds 59mextra to tackle access problems.

``This study does not include community dentists or dentists based in hospitals, which account for a further 3,763 dentists.''

Shadow health secretary Tim Yeo said: ``This disgraceful report will come as no surprise to over half of the adult population who aren't registered with a dentist.''

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Tim Yeo: `Disgraceful report'
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 10, 2004
Words:569
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