‘We didn’t produce or claim a figure of 80 per cent’ – NHSWI

The dental centre in Stornoway.
The dental centre in Stornoway.

NHS Western Isles have denied claims they massaged or distorted statistics to claim a higher total of island residents are registered with an NHS dentist.

Campaigners this week released a statement in which they claimed figures published by the Information Services Division of NHS National Services Scotland, which claim a registration rate of 80 per cent, were misleading and a freedom of information request have revealed the true figure of 53 per cent..

But NHS Western Isles have this week insisted the 80 per cent figure is one which was never produced or claimed by them.

“The figure generated by Information Services Division Scotland of 80 per cent registration was not produced or claimed by NHS Western Isles.,” said a spokesperson for NHS Western Isles.

“This figure appears to include both active patients and those lists awaiting transfer and NHS Western Isles was not given an opportunity to review the figures before their publication.

“Furthermore, NHSWI does not ‘submit’ registration figures to the Scottish Government as each dentist operates a ‘list number’ which the Scottish Dental Practice Board uses to record activity and monitor payments.

“When dentists leave an area or retire, their list can be transferred, disbanded, or placed in abeyance. Following staff reductions NHS Western Isles elected to put some patient lists in abeyance for possible transfer to a new dentist.  Immediate transfer was ruled out as our existing dentists already have large lists.”

Margaret Murray of the Campaign for NHS Dentistry in the Isles (CNDI), revealed the discrepancy between the two figures this week as she also detailed letters received from Neil Fergus of the Chief Dental Officer and Dentistry Division at the Scottish Government’s Population Health Directorate which she says confirm the national statistics were “distorted”.

“A person is either registered with an NHS dentist or they are not,” said Mrs Murray.

“There are 14,732 people registered with an NHS dentist in the Isles, out of a population of 27,684. That means the registration rate is 53 per cent and on Lewis it is even lower.

“People should never forget that the situation in which large numbers of residents are being denied routine dental care has been going on for more than a decade.

“In 2005, NHS Highland chief executive Roger Gibbins admitted that the number of us being denied registration was 2,800.

“In 2010, the reason for building the £4.7 million Western Isles Dental Centre in Stornoway was supposedly to tackle what was called the ‘huge waiting list crisis’.”

“Well they have failed. In 2015 the number being refused registration was at 4500. In 2017 it is 6000.”

“And now we learn that while so many islanders’ teeth are rotting, the Health Board has been spending even more money, while furnishing figures which have led to what the Scottish Government admits is a distortion of centrally-published statistics.”

She continued: “We have received promises from the Health Board several times in the past. What we need is a clear statement from the Cabinet Secretary, Shona Robison, that NHS dental registration will resume on the Isles for everybody who wants it, before such-and-such a date in the near future. We have a right to receive all the dental treatment we need on the NHS. It is not a privilege.”

NHS Western Isles have confirmed the figure of 14,372 are registered with dentists working within the Western Isles Health Board area.

But they add a number of patients were registered with dentists who have retired or moved on and a list of these patients is held by NHS Western Isles who expect them to be transferred to new dentists. 

They explain that all patients are enabled the opportunity to register, but only where capacity exists for this to be done safely with a small numbers of patients are continuously being added to lists as space permits.

Their spokesperson continued: “NHS Western Isles does not ‘de-register’ these patients as they would then lose the chance to be reassigned to a new NHS dentist.

“NHSWI does not receive any payment for patients who are on this waiting list and all patients can access emergency or urgent care, without the need for registration.

“Placing lists in abeyance allows scope to offer immediate registration when a vacant post is filled.

“These list numbers can also be used to report registration levels.

“With regard to offering full registration to everyone, it is currently the policy of the Scottish Government to encourage Independent Dental Practitioners to expand NHS dental services.”

The purpose-built Western Isles Dental Centre opened in 2011 and replaced the outdated clinics based within the Nicolson Institute, Stornoway Primary and the facility at Bayhead Dental Practice.

Recruitment challenge

in rural area

“It was also created to host training for dental students and therapists,” say the NHS Western Isles. “Two locally trained therapists now work at the site, however although therapists deliver a wide range of treatment, they cannot legally register patients. 

“The Centre proved so successful that almost all Lewis waiting lists had been eliminated by late 2014.  The current reduction in the number of registrations reflects the challenges of recruiting to fixed-term posts in a rural area.”

Referring to Ms Murray’s claim that NHS Western Isles are spending ‘even more money’ they responded by insisting they operate within a budget set by Scottish Government and which is subject to continuous scrutiny of its performance.

 NHS Western Isles also point to independent figures produced by the National Dental Inspection Programme which show that over the last 10 years children’s dental health locally has been transformed, from the worst in Scotland to the point where there is nowhere better, illustrating the value and commitment of dental staff in the Western Isles.

They add they are working closely with an individual seeking to bring a new dental clinic to Stornoway in the near future.