The future of a dental practice in a Northumberland village has been thrown up in the air, after discussions have started regarding a possible closure.
A consultation about shutting the doors of Coquetdale Dental Practice, which is based at Broomhill Health Centre, in Hadston, is under way.
Mr Simon Francis, who runs the surgery, as well as one in Rothbury, has said he is considering closing the Hadston branch because he does not believe the service will be sustainable in the long-term, citing declining patient numbers and high failure-to-attend rates as the reasons.
However, the news has caused concern in the community and the area’s county councillor Scott Dickinson is worried about residents not being able to access alternative services.
Regarding the closure proposals, a letter from Mr Francis states: ‘I am writing to let you know that I am in discussions with NHS England about the possibility of closing my dental practice at Broomhill Health Centre and providing dental services from my Rothbury practice only.
‘I am therefore seeking your views on this proposal as a patient who has routinely attended the practice before a final decision is made.
‘As you may be aware, I have experienced an extended period of ill health. Since returning to work, I have been re-evaluating the viability of operating as a single-handed dentist across two geographical locations, working three days at Rothbury and two days at Broomhill.
‘The costs associated with running the limited service at Broomhill are high and this, together with the declining number of patients and high fail-to-attend rates does not make the service viable going forward.
‘The majority of patients using my service live in the Rothbury area, and for those who do not wish to travel to Rothbury, I am aware that there are 13 other practices within a 17-mile radius that are accepting NHS patients.
‘Concentrating my service on the Rothbury site will allow me to offer patients a greater choice of appointments as the practice will open five days per week, with late-night opening on a Wednesday with access on a Saturday depending upon demand.
‘A number of patients who access Broomhill also attend Rothbury and I would hope that should the decision be taken to close the Broomhill site people will continue to be a patient at the Rothbury practice.
‘As a family-run practice we appreciate the loyalty and friendship of our regular patients and we do apologise for any concern this may cause.
‘Please be assured that should a decision be taken to close the Broomhill site, then I would work with NHS England to ensure that any patients who did not wish to attend Rothbury are signposted to alternative NHS dental services.’
To help make an informed decision, the surgery is asking residents to give their views. The practice has also informed local councillors, the MP, Healthwatch and Northumberland County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board of our consultation and is actively seeking their views and opinions.
In response, Coun Dickinson said: “I understand the dentist has been operating a single dentist practice which, when split between two sites so far apart must be difficult.
“I also note that the letter to patients talks about ill health of the dentist and I hope he is well again now.
“However, it is, in my opinion, incredibly important that large communities like mine have access to NHS dentist appointments.
“With us living in the area we do, I worry about access for my constituents, many people do not have their own transport, which could mean trips to the dentist become expensive not only for treatment but travel too.
“I worry about older people potentially having to travel 17 miles. We all know how important dental healthcare is and how poor dental health can lead to many other health issues.
“I don’t believe the closest, which is Amble, has the ability to take on the patients that would be displaced.
“I will be seeking an alternative provider commitment from NHS England if Coquetdale Dental Practice ceases operations. It is important that a good quality service with improved access is offered in our fantastic health centre.”