Despite the fact that it will mean 4,500 patients in and around a Cornish town losing their dentist, a new pilot – which is believed to be one of the first of its kind in the country – has been welcomed at a time when NHS dentistry faces a national crisis.

A collaboration between the NHS and a Cornwall dental surgery, has created a new treatment scheme, enabling children and the most vulnerable patients to access an NHS dentist but it does mean that the practice in Lostwithiel will have to lose 4,500 patients who are deemed both financially viable and healthy enough to find an alternative dentist or carry on at the surgery as private patients.

Carriage Works Lostwithiel Dental Surgery has been struggling to maintain NHS services due to national challenges affecting NHS dental provision. NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Integrated Care Board and NHS England worked closely with the practice to create a local solution that enabled them to continue to offer NHS services and support with dental emergencies.

The aim of the pilot project is to focus the practice’s limited NHS capacity on people with the greatest need for those services. NHS services at the practice will continue to be available to children under-18, patients over 80 (without complex restorations such as dental implants) and patients with medical conditions that may impact on their ability to maintain their dental health.

The practice will also see patients from the NHS waiting list and patients who need urgent dental care, referred by other healthcare providers. This pilot project will help those who have been unable to access NHS care for many years.

The change will affect around 4,500 patients at the practice, who can choose to join an alternative dental practice or decide if they wish to stay with Carriage Works Lostwithiel Dental Surgery on a private basis.

Chris Reid, chief medical officer for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said: “The team at Carriage Works Lostwithiel Dental Surgery should be applauded for what they are preparing to deliver through this exciting pilot project that ensures they continue to provide NHS funded dental care to the people that need it most.

“We have worked closely with NHS England and the practice to support this change, which will see the contract offering NHS dental services for children, vulnerable people and those in most need of urgent care from October. We are interested to see how this project makes a difference locally and if there is potential to expand this approach more widely.”

Finlay Bason, practice owner and principal dentist, added: “First and foremost, we are committed to providing excellent NHS dental care at Carriage Works Lostwithiel Dental Surgery. It is our hope that this pilot project will enable us to continue doing so, by allowing us to focus our limited NHS capacity on the people with the greatest need for those services.

“We know that for many patients the change won’t come as welcome news. We do hope to have their understanding that we are doing our very best in a complex and challenging situation.”

Patients were informed of the changes at a public meeting held in Lostwithiel on Monday, September 25 with letters being sent to all patients and full details available on the practice website. The pilot contract comes into effect on Monday. It will be reviewed on an ongoing basis throughout a minimum of two years to assess performance such as improvements in access for the identified groups. The practice are also introducing a local contact list of patients in the PL22 postcode who meet their NHS criteria, so that they can contacted when space becomes available.

Local Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Martin, who chaired the public meeting, says he is proud to have played a role in the negotiations. 

“When Lostwithiel lost one of its NHS dentists a few months ago, practice owner Fin Bason made it clear that he would soon lose all his other NHS dentists if the contract remained unchanged,” he said. “I contacted the Integrated Care Board and urged them to work with Fin to find a compromise before it was too late. I’m delighted that these negotiations have led to a sustainable new contract being signed in Lostwithiel.

“Sadly there still isn’t enough money to provide NHS care to all who need it, but the available places will now be allocated on clinical criteria. Under-18s, most over-80s and people with illnesses or disabilities which affect their ability to look after their own teeth will keep their places on Lostwithiel’s NHS list.

“Obviously this will be bad news for some healthy working-age adults who will lose their NHS places, but hundreds of other people with serious dental problems will now be able to access NHS treatment after years without any dental care at all. Fin deserves great credit for fighting to get a more sustainable contract rather than just walking away from the NHS as thousands of other dentists have done.”