Largs, Saltcoats and Irvine have been highlighted as areas of "particular concern" when it comes to accessing NHS dental services, a Scottish Parliament briefing paper has revealed.

Many residents in the towns have little or no access to NHS committed practices due to a high level of recruitment issues, large waiting lists and practices choosing to become private. 

Of the 26 dental practices listed with Ayrshire and Arran Health Board committed to providing NHS care, only four are accepting new NHS registrations, both 
NHS adult and children, but have large waiting lists. 

It comes as the Health and Social Care Partnership has revealed a solution to meet the dental needs of the Ayrshire region would see new "dental access centres across Ayrshire and Arran, which would be staffed by NHS employed staff".

The Scottish Parliament report states: "The current position fluctuates daily and the Primary Care Dental Management team are in regular contact with all practices and GDP champions. To ensure maximum  support is given, the dental management team are reliant on general dental practices keeping them  informed on their current position.

"General dental practices are independent businesses therefore not all practices provide NHS dental care however those practices on the dental lists held by the board  are supported by the dental management team."

During the Covid-19 pandemic, access to routine dental care and treatment was severely restricted due to enhanced infection control procedures, this increased waiting lists and ability to register with a dentist. 

No access and the ongoing waiting times has now also resulted in care becoming more complex resulting in longer appointments being required.

Many general dental practices are struggling to recruit to vacant posts due to shortages at all levels of the profession. 

In addition there is a shortfall of newly qualified dental trainees due to a pause in training and trainees not able to graduate during the Covid restrictions.

There has been a rise in the number of practices opting to reduce their NHS commitment and switching to private only practice.

Unlike the GP Practice model, there is no contractual requirement for dental practices to provide a basic level of service to patients. 

In a Health and Social Care Partnership report, presented to councillors, they say the current situation poses a risk for the ongoing recovery of dental services to provide sufficient services to the public.

The Dental Management Team are working closely with all practices to minimise impact on patients wherever possible.

To manage current capacity, some practices have paused new patient registrations, though most are still providing NHS care for children.

Registering with a dentist is not postcode dependent therefore if patients can travel, they are able to register with any dentist of their choosing within the local board area.

The report stated: "Dental practices are being supported to explore organisational resilience and processes to support recruitment. 

"A scoping exercise is also being undertaken to assess the need for dental access centres across Ayrshire and Arran, which would be staffed by NHS employed staff. 

"This will determine when and how many centres would be required."

Conservative Cllr Tom Marshall said: "The report highlights problems in Irvine, Saltcoats and Largs.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Councillor Tom MarshallCouncillor Tom Marshall (Image: North Ayrshire Conservatives)
"The idea of the NHS setting up these centres would be a good solution but there is such a huge demand for dental services; it would have to be well staffed, and would need to allow people to get appointments and not just joining a long queue as it happening in the health service.

"The other problem is the appointment of NHS dentists - newly qualified dentists don't work to go into the NHS as the pay rates are so low so there may well be a problem in terms of recruitment.

"It is a working paper, and will be looked at again in six months, so there is no immediate plans for this to get underway as yet it would appear."