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Hebrides News


Stornoway’s dental centre is underused due to shortage of dentists

Waiting lists frozen over dentist shortage, patients forced to mainland for treatment  

21 February 2017

Islanders have to travel to the mainland to see a dentist as waiting lists in Lewis are full up.


Stornoway’s modern £4.7 million dental centre with its seven purpose built surgeries plus five training surgeries is underused after half the number of dentists left.


A petition set up by an islander demands the Scottish Government intervenes to provide a proper service.


The petition said: “The only way we can register as NHS dental patients at the moment is to travel away from the island, to a town such as Inverness.


“Such a journey not only requires considerable expense but depending on a person's employment and family circumstances would also usually necessitate an overnight stay on the mainland.


“For many of us this would mean great inconvenience.


“For example we would need to arrange childcare and find alternative ways to ensure that other family responsibilities are looked after.


“Many residents simply cannot afford the expense and inconvenience of travelling to Inverness every few months for dental treatment.


Less than six dentists are available in Stornoway compared to 10 just three years ago.


A health board spokesperson said: “NHS Western Isles recognises and acknowledges the current capacity issues in relation to dental service provision on Lewis, and remains steadfast in its resolve to establish an efficient and effective model to meet current and future demands.


There was no waiting list in 2014 when the number of dentists peaked at the equivalent of 10 full time dentists.


But then two independent dentists moved on and a recruited replacement only stayed for six months.

Since then a further three health board dentists have left and one is on extended leave.


At the moment, the island is down to the equivalent of 5.8 full time dentists.


All dentists are running lists of 2000 to 2500, which cannot be increased “for safety reasons,” said the health board.


The spokesperson said: “We do currently register special needs groups, and emergency dental care continues to be available for anyone assessed as requiring that.”


She added: “Proposals have been developed to redesign the service but unfortunately have not yet been agreed.”


The dental service across the islands is currently “under active review to improve the distribution, quality, sustainability and access to services.”

Lewis and Harris has one dentist currently for every 3,138 population.

Uist and Benbecula has one dentist for every 1,615 people.


On Barra, a sole dentist covers the 1,160 population.

Planning is at an “advanced stage” for a new practice in Stornoway which would employ three dentists. If it goes ahead, they could take 6,000 patients by September or October, said the health board.


A Scottish Government spokesman said NHS Western Isles is making “continuous efforts” to improve local dental services.

He added: “We are committed to ensuring that patients who wish to have access to NHS dental services are able to do so.

“Across Scotland, more than 4.9 million people have now registered for NHS dental services, and the total number of independent dental practitioners providing NHS services have risen by more than 30% under this government.”