COMMENT: This disaster must be solved at the highest level

Talk about a kick in the teeth. The 9,000 people in the Portsmouth area who received letters telling them their local dentist surgery was closing must have felt as though they had been abandoned by the NHS.

The National Health Service has been seen as a birthright by generations since it was established almost 71 years ago on July 5.

Free healthcare at the point of use is one of its key principles — yet as everyone knows, dental care, even on the NHS is never free, with most patients charged for even the most basic treatment.

When private enterprise opened up in the medical sector many practices decided to go private, and patients seeking NHS treatment were, in many cases left high and dry.

Then private operators came in to run NHS contracts, and those patients were relieved to be able to find a practice to sign up with.

Then, in Portsmouth, came this week’s dental disaster, with private firm Colosseum Dental pulling out, shutting three surgeries, citing problems in dental recruitment.

Therein lie the perils of allowing market forces to influence public sector provision.

No NHS places left on Portsea Island. Nearest slim availability is in Gosport or Havant. Not good enough.

Why is Britain so short of dentists and GPs?

Good news, then, that Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan is on the warpath over the city’s dental crisis.

He wants answers from NHS England about how this was allowed to happen. Don’t we all?

Mr Morgan and others fear up to 20,000 people could ultimately be affected by the lack of NHS dental provision in Portsmouth.

As one of the affected surgeries is in Paulsgrove, it is to be hoped he will have the backing of Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, regardless of whatever else is in her inbox.