Out-of-hours dental service in decay

CHILDREN and adults in agony with toothache now face a 50-mile round trip for emergency dental treatment at evenings and weekends

CHILDREN and adults in agony with toothache now face a 50-mile round trip for emergency dental treatment at evenings and weekends.A shake-up in the dental service means patients from Weston and surrounding villages now have to travel to Bristol to have urgent care after surgeries close.Residents are not able to see an on-call dentist in their area on weekdays after 6pm, as well at weekends or bank holidays.People who need treatment will have to make the long journey to Bristol as there are no plans to have an out-of-hours centre in Weston until the summer at the earliest.North Somerset Primary Care Trust (PCT), which is running the new regime, says the facility is likely to be at Weston General Hospital.Prominent Weston dentist David Houston, of Houston Dental Surgery in Milton Road, has cautiously welcomed the new service. Under the old set-up, dentists in the Weston area were on a rota to deal with night-time and weekend problems on top of their normal working hours.He said: "The old system could mean an onerous workload. I think most dentists are slightly happier as long as the new service is efficient and the standard of care is maintained."The changes are part of a new contract for dentists introduced by the Government on April 1.Under the new contract, Bristol Dental Hospital has become part of the out-of-hours service and does not run a walk-in service for patients from Weston and elsewhere. It will offer booked emergency appointments at weekends and on bank holidays for the next three months.The new service, which is costing £300,000 a year, is being run by the four primary care trusts (PCTs) in the former Avon area.Patients from Weston can only get access to out of hours care by calling 0845 120 6680 and may be given an appointment at the treatment centre at Bristol City Gate in Broad Street if necessary.A trained dental nurse will handle the calls from 6-9pm Monday-Friday and 8am-5pm at weekends and on bank holidays. After these times, patients will have to call NHS Direct.Depending on their situation, people will be treated at an out-of-hours centre, told to take painkillers and wait for their dentist to open or sent to Bristol Dental Hospital.Patients could also be told to go to their hospital A & E department.John Boyles, dental health consultant for the PCTs, said: "The change for the patients is the service will become more streamlined and uniform."Many people will be able to take medicine and care for themselves until they can see their own dentist. But in real emergencies, such as loss of blood, they will be directed to a treatment centre.