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Public demand inquiry into closure of Uist dental practices in favour of centralised service

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Fury has erupted at the decision to close three dental practices in Uist.

Services have been moved to a central base at the Uist and Barra Hospital in Benbecula, leaving patients with round trips of up to 60 miles.

Locals have branded the move undemocratic and are calling upon Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to intervene and order an inquiry.

Campaigners have fought to save three dental practices in Liniclate, Lochboisdale and Lochmaddy for almost three years.

They have now raised concerns over the decision of the Integration Joint Board (IJB) which is expected to leave locals out of pocket and cost jobs.

Andrew Walker, of the Uist Locality Planning Group (ULPG), has written to the Health Secretary to push for the intervention, adding that there is “massive overwhelming opposition to the proposal to relocate”.

Mr Walker said: “We want to retain the three practices.

“We are looking at communities at the extreme ends of our island chain, from Berneray in the north to Eriskay in the south. We are facing extreme austerity and poverty and it is going to make it extremely difficult for parents of children to maintain regular attendance at dental practices.”

Mr Walker described the decision to defer the decision to the chief executives of NHS Western Isles and the Western Isles Council as a “hospital pass” adding that due to the “divided camps”, no meaningful progress has been made.

He added: “The IJB is really abdicating responsibility in passing it over to two officers. That’s not democratic. It should be elected members that are making this decision.”

Mr Walker has raised concerns over the job security of receptionists and dental assistants, however, accepts the IJB’s statement that there will not be any initial redundancies.

The cost of public transport has also been highlighted as an issue, with the accessibility and timings placing restraints on patients. Use of the dial-a-bus service, which charges £1.25 per mile, is not said to be feasible by Mr Walker with some residents facing charges upwards of £75 for a 60-mile round trip.

An NHS Western Isles spokeswoman said the position has been agreed following “careful consideration” and “extensive engagement” with the public.

She added the matter “divided opinion” but now “provides an opportunity to move forward”.

A Western Isles Council spokesman said a full report will be brought before the IJB on September 26 which will “describe the methodology adopted by the chief executives’ review and the reasoning behind the decision reached”.

A Scottish Government spokesma, meanwhile, said: “Following careful consideration and further engagement with key stakeholders and staff, the Western Isles Integrated Joint Board (IJB) has decided to adopt the hub and outreach model as part of a redesign of dental services in Uist.

“This model will involve the core service being delivered from a new four-chair dental suite within the Uist and Barra Hospital, with outreach services delivered through the deployment of a portable dental suite.

“This will provide a mechanism to deliver dentistry to highly localised communities, with services monitored and reviewed as they are rolled out.

“Integrated Joint Boards are committed to ensuring that high-quality health and social care services are available to their local populations and the Scottish Government continues to support this work with a package of investment exceeding £700 million this year – a 29% increase over last year.”

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