When 8to8 Dental opened up their NHS registers for new patients, people queued for hours to secure a dentist.
More than 500 waited patiently outside the Forres practice on the day Storm Babet swept the region with torrential rain.
Access to NHS dentists has been scarce in Moray with adult places almost impossible to come by for several years amidst a nationwide shortage.
However, in the days that followed the huge queues in Forres, 8to8 added a further 600 patients plus an additional 550 in Keith.
The firm also has plans to open its books in Buckie later this year ahead of an expansion in the town.
How has 8to8 Dental been able to take on more NHS patients while others have struggled during a nationwide shortage? The Press and Journal visited its Buckie practice to find out.
Why 8to8 Dental has been able to retain and hire dentists
8to8 Dental currently has 14 dentists across its three practices in Buckie, Forres and Keith, with that number expected to rise to 16 before August.
The firm is also due to take over its neighbouring property in Buckie with plans to add another three treatment rooms in phases.
At a time when many dentists are leaving NHS practice or retiring, principal dentist Hiranya Fadia explained the key to the success of the Moray business has been being able to retain staff.
He said: “We are a training practice, so we get graduates from university for a year and then we sign them off.
“We’ve been very lucky to have had such good trainees over the years. We’ve been able to keep them and grow the team to where it is now.
“It’s a very stable team we have now. We’ve still got staff from when we began 10 years ago.
“We do our best to support them, make them feel part of the team. If they’re happy then we find they want to stay with us.”
Graduate dentists completing their NHS training at 8to8 Dental are predominantly from Dundee and Glasgow universities.
However, this year there are trainees from both Sheffield and Plymouth in the north-east beginning their careers.
Mr Fadia added: “We find that when people move to the area they like what they see and want to stay.
“The hardest thing is finding somewhere to stay. There are very, very few places to rent at the moment. It’s a big problem.”
Why dentists are stopping NHS dental treatment
NHS dental places are hard to come by across the country amidst a nationwide shortage of dentists.
Mr Fadia believes the lack of capacity is due to staff retiring early during Covid and a gap in graduates getting practical experience due to the pandemic.
8to8 Dental currently has varying proportions of between 60% to 80% in favour of NHS patients over private patients in its three practices, with a 50/50 split being the aim.
Associate dentist Dorothy Sinclair explained the demands of NHS dentistry had led to many practices moving to just private treatments.
She said: “NHS dentistry can be very stressful. You’ve got to see what’s in the mouth, work out a treatment plan and how much it’s going to cost – all within a 20 to 30-minute appointment.
“It’s very demanding, and there isn’t the remuneration that there is in private practice.
“As a practice, we like being able to offer both. A lot of treatments aren’t available on the NHS, and Hiranya likes to invest in the newest equipment and treatments.”
With so many new patients being registered, will it mean extraordinarily long waiting lists to be seen?
Mr Fadia explained: “We also have three dental therapists who are able to carry out some treatments.
“It might be the case a patients sees a dentist for one appointment and then they’re referred to a therapist after that to free up more time for complex procedures.
“Our reception staff also do a great job to making sure we’re using all the appointment times available so we have an efficient team.”
‘People were waiting in the rain, then thanking us for giving them a NHS dentist!’
The shortage of NHS dentists in the Highlands has resulted in patients travelling as far as Edinburgh to get appointments.
It has come amidst warnings of a two-tier system developing between those who can and can’t afford private treatment.
Staff at the 8to8 Dental Practice in Forres revealed just how far patients were prepared to go to secure a NHS dentist.
Practice manager Julie Hudson described the situation on an open day for registratios as “manic”.
She said: “It was a horrendous day in the middle of a storm. We were only going to stay open for two hours but we did four and a half hours, people were queuing round the block.
“We were going to open at 10am. I arrived at 8.45am and people had already been there for about an hour so we opened our doors at 9.30am.
“The poor souls had been stood in the pouring rain but they were just so grateful to get a dentist. They were coming in the doors and thanking us.”
After the huge queues during Storm Babet, 8to8 Dental moved to registering places for NHS dentists online.
From India to Buckie via Australia: Spotting a gap in NHS dental provision
Married couple Mr Fadia and Mrs Sinclair both grew up in India before initially going their separate ways.
While Mr Fadia came to the UK to complete his dental training in Essex, Mrs Sinclair took the first steps in her career in Sydney.
It was only after Mr Fadia got his first job in Huntly that he was able to persuade his wife to swap sunny Australian beaches for the Moray Firth coast.
He said: “I said to myself ‘The first guy that phones me, I’m going’, so I started work in Huntly in 2010.
“I was there for a few years and noticed we were getting a few patients travelling from Buckie so thought why don’t I start my own practice.
“The plan was for me to move to Australia but I spoke to Dorothy and told her I think I’ve got a good thing going here.
“We spoke to NHS Grampian about starting a practice and they were very supportive.”
NHS Grampian maintains a list of which dental practices are currently accepting NHS registrations. It is updated monthly HERE.