North Walsham to get more NHS dentists

NORTH Walsham is set to welcome up to four new NHS dentists, serving 10,000 patients in an area stretching from Cromer, to Wroxham and Stalham.Oasis Healthcare, which runs 150 dental surgeries nationwide, has applied for planning permission to turn the former insurance brokers at 20 Market Place into a practice.

NORTH Walsham is set to welcome up to four new NHS dentists, serving 10,000 patients in an area stretching from Cromer, to Wroxham and Stalham.

Oasis Healthcare, which runs 150 dental surgeries nationwide, has applied for planning permission to turn the former insurance brokers at 20 Market Place into a practice.

Earlier this year Norfolk Primary Care Trust identified North Walsham, along with Dereham, as a “hotspot” in need of better access to NHS dentists. Only one of Walsham's four existing practices is currently accepting new NHS patients.

News of the planning application has been welcomed by North Walsham Town Council and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who has campaigned for better access to NHS dentists in the area - but he says there is still a way to go to solving the shortage.

The new practice would have five treatment rooms - two on the ground floor and three on the first floor.

It would employ 15 full-time staff members and would be open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Wednesday and Friday, 8am to 8pm on Thursdays and 8am to 2pm on Saturdays. A private dentist would work at the surgery on Fridays.

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Samantha Rutter, NHS contracts manager for Oasis, said she hoped the practice would open for business in February if the scheme got the go ahead from North Norfolk District Council planners next month.

Ms Rutter told Tuesday's North Walsham Town Council planning committee meeting: “We want to get this set up quite quickly. I chose North Walsham due to its central location. It's got great links to the other towns. You can reach it easily by rail and by road and there are good parking facilities.”

The town centre would benefit from the surgery because it would attract about 100 visitors each day.

“People don't just come to the dentist's,” she said. “While they're in town, they go to the butcher's and the baker's as well.”

Oasis would be looking to recruit nurses and reception staff locally and applicants did not need to be qualified as training would be given.

The company, whose head office is in Thorpe Road, Norwich, wants to buy the listed building and Ms Rutter said the interior would be modern and equipped to a high standard. She added: “It really is private quality for the NHS. We genuinely do think it will be a great thing for the area.”

Staff would also go in to the community to teach schoolchildren and others about dental hygiene.

Councillors gave wholehearted support to the plan. Ted Gadsden said: “I think it will be very welcome. It's quite ironic that it could be a dental surgery that ends up regenerating North Walsham.”

But town council clerk Margaret Foster warned that the application still had to overcome a planning hurdle as it did not meet conditions laid out in the new Local Development Framework which stipulated that a certain percentage of businesses in the town had to be retail.

However, she believed district planners would treat the scheme sympathetically as the building had been vacant for a long time and the surgery would draw people to the town.

Ms Rutter assured councillors that Oasis would avoid the sorts of patient “queues right round the block” seen in some towns when NHS dentists opened.

Those wanting more information could ring two freephone numbers: Oasis on 0800 678 3792 or the PALs service on 0800 587 4132, she said. Former NHS patients whose practices have turned private will be free to apply for a place on one of the new NHS dentists' lists.

Dentists were invited to tender for extra contracts worth £700,000 in an attempt to make NHS treatment available to more people.

Mr Lamb is among critics who have blamed the shortage of NHS dentists on new contracts which came into force in 2006. It is claimed many surgeries switched to being purely private practices and some even left the profession because of the contracts.

Mr Lamb said, because of that, the North Walsham surgery would only go so far in bridging the gap. He said: “This is a local example of a national problem. Any increase in capacity must be good news but there are still massive problems with the way in which the contract works. This surgery does not solve all of the problems.”

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