NHS bosses are hoping to have a new dental contract in place by June 2019 following the loss of services in two Northumberland villages last year.
Last October, NHS England (Cumbria and the North East) announced that operations were to cease at Coquetdale Dental Practice, which had centres in Rothbury and Hadston.
Due to personal circumstances, Simon Francis, who ran the surgeries, was no longer in a position to continue to deliver NHS dental services and therefore his contract ended.
Updating members of the county council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, Ros Goode, a business manager for NHS England, admitted that June next year does seem a long way away, but ‘it needs to be done right so we have something in place for patients in those areas’.
She explained that it is hoped a business case will have been drawn up by the end of August for sign-off by NHS England, which will mean the procurement process can start in September.
Coun Lesley Rickerby, chairing last Tuesday’s meeting, said: “We understand that there’s a process to go through, but it’s about communicating that to the people out there.”
It is not yet know what the new contract will look like – although it is very unlikely to be the same as before as there was ‘very little appetite’ from providers for a like-for-like contract – as analysis still needs to be completed.
This will take into account the population, patient need, public transport, new housing and the results of market engagement as well as the results of the recent patient engagement, which received almost 800 responses.
However, Pauline Fletcher, NHS primary care commissioning manager (dental), said: “I’m concerned about justifying the level of patient need against the size of contract that the providers want.”
One of the common themes from the patient feedback was the issue of public transport – both cost and frequency. In Rothbury, it was highlighted that patients from further afield, such as Thropton and Harbottle, also used the service previously.
Nonetheless, 575 of the 783 (73 per cent) who responded to the questionnaire have found an alternative dentist and, of these, 436 (76 per cent) were happy to remain with their new dentist.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service