BY the end of July Portsmouth will have three gaps in its dental provision - and the work to fill the spaces won't be finished until April 2020.
Earlier this month, Colosseum dental practices announced it would be shutting its practices in Portsea, Southsea, and Paulsgrove, leaving an estimated 9,000 patients without a dentist.
Outcry from Portsmouth MPs Penny Mordaunt and Stephen Morgan was followed by NHS England, which procures dental services across the UK, holding an urgent meeting this Tuesday in order to address the issue.
NHS England announced at the meeting it would be working towards having permanent replacement services in place by April 2020, a plan which Roger Batterbury, from patient advocacy group Healthwatch Portsmouth, felt was 'optimistic.'
He said: 'I think April is optimistic.
'I feel the meeting was positive, and there was going to be a good outcome.
'But in the meantime, they need to find an interim and permanent solution, and finish treating 230 patients who need treatment before the practices close.'
In order to create an interim solution, NHS England is in talks with dental practices across the city and Colosseum - which has already shut the dental practice in Paulsgrove.
The closure of the dental practice in Allaway Avenue, which became a purpose-built health centre thanks to £2m in investment from the NHS and central government funding in 2000, has left patients feeling 'gutted,' according to resident David Horne.
He said: 'It shouldn't happen.'
We campaigned for years for the building to be what it was.
'It was brilliant - it was always buzzing.
'Then two years ago it changed, and services started leaving.'
A statement from Colosseum attributes the closures to difficulty recruiting dentists, while Roger was informed by NHS England that the company raised concerns about 'costings.'
Portsmouth is not alone in struggling to recruit and retain dentists.
Phil Gowers, chairman of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Dental Committee, said: 'I am concerned that this is not just something that is impacting Portsmouth.
This is happening from Cornwall to Canterbury - It has also happened in Bournemouth recently.
'Surgeries are just struggling to recruit staff.
'Across the country 75 per cent of NHS dental vacancies are not being filled.'
Council Leader Council Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the city was in 'a better position' than other areas - and said the council would only step-in as a provider 'as a last resort.'
He said: 'I think we're in a better position than other places though because we have the dental academy at the university.
'Hopefully students will be encouraged to say in the city once they've finished their training and help keep the numbers up.
'The council would only step in as a provider as a last resort, if no one else is found.'
NHS England is due to present a draft report on an interim service at a meeting on July 10th.
Timeline of events
TUESDAY JUNE 11: Colosseum Dental Practices, owned by a Switzerland-based firm Jacobs Holding, announces in a letter to patients it would be closing three dental practices in Paulsgrove, Portsea, and Southsea ‘with great regret’ and after ‘careful consideration’, potentially leaving more than 9,000 people without a dentist.
A spokeswoman for the company said: ‘This is due to long-standing and ongoing challenges in dentist recruitment which make it increasingly difficult to continue to provide the very highest standard of care to our patients, to which the company aspires.’
MONDAY JUNE 17: Stephen Morgan, MP for Portsmouth South, calls NHS bosses to Parliament to discuss plans for services following the closures.
Mr Morgan said: ‘The time for complacency is over.
‘I look forward to discussions with NHS England, the health secretary and others in order to safeguard dental services for the people of Portsmouth.’
TUESDAY JUNE 18: Portsmouth City Council leader Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson announces he is asking the council to look into taking over and running the dental surgeries.
He said: ‘It seems to me there’s significant logic for the council to run them off the private sector contract and take over the contracts with NHS England to provide the NHS dentist cover that people have had in the past.
SATURDAY JUNE 22: MPs Penny Mordaunt and Caroline Dinenage demand urgent action to address the issue, with Ms Mordaunt saying dental services were a ‘big priority.’
SATURDAY JULY 31: The date by which point Colosseum will have closed all three of the dental practices.