When dentist Dr Simon Gallier announced his practice would have to leave the NHS, it caused a shockwave through his patients.
The Foregate Street Dental Practice was being forced to go private, and the letter Dr Gallier sent to his 7500 patients showed his despair at the choice he was forced to make.
The bottom line is, he just couldn’t run the practice with the amount of money allocated in the NHS to dentistry.
People are telling me that they arrive in Chester and are unable to sign on to an NHS dentist. Others tell me that they try to make an appointment for a check-up, only to find that they have been removed from the dentist’s list, because they have not been for a long while.
The money allocated to dentistry in the NHS has fallen in the last six years when you take inflation into account. Last week the government announced an extra £50 million. It’s welcome and a recognition of the crisis but the truth is it’s not enough. Just £7 million will go to the North West. We need a proper long term funding arrangement.
My concern is that many more dental practices will be forced to go the same way as Foregate Street. It will hit people in their pockets when we already have a cost of living crisis. More than that however, are my worries about the creeping privatisation of the NHS.
It is an age old tactic, to starve a service of funds so it performs badly, then say the only option is to privatise it. Already hundreds of local services are provided by private sector providers. In Chester the sexual health service is provided by Virgin Health Care. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but sometimes it is just because private bidders have teams of professional bid writers and know what to say to present the most attractive bid.
My worries about the NHS are that doctors’ surgeries or dentists will be bought out by finance companies who then charge a monthly membership fee. That stream of regular income is very valuable for finance companies who own chains of practices. The business then becomes all about raising money, not serving patients. This is what’s happened with many veterinary practices already.
Even when the service stays within the NHS, a private provider can only make money by charging more or reducing the service.
I don’t want Foregate Street Dentists to be the first of many. Indeed I hope we can change the government’s policy so Dr Gallier gets the financing he needs and can remain in the NHS.