And General Dental Practitioner Dr John Barry, who heads the new practice, predicts that the waiting list for NHS dental treatment will have been eradicated within the next 12 months.
He said: “Access to dental health in Caithness had been very limited for many years but our practice is now making massive strides in improving the situation.
“We have managed to put together an excellent and well-motivated team of four dentists and a therapist and have recruited 12 new nursing staff, some qualified and some receiving training. We are also delivering an emergency dental pain service to address some of the serious problems many people have.
“So not only have we created some jobs in the Caithness community but we are providing a much-needed service in an area which has for many years had a huge waiting list for NHS dental treatment.
“The shortfall in dentistry provision in Caithness has resulted in a lot of people in the area having considerable dental health problems. The outlook for dental health is now looking far brighter.”
Dr Barry explained that the practice, which has four surgeries, was increasing its opening hours from 8.30am-5.30pm to 8am-7.30pm in a bid to work through the waiting list quicker. It is doing so by taking on tranches of 1,000 patients at a time, examining and then treating them before moving on to the next batch of 1,000.
“We were determined not just to work our way through the numbers but to ensure that we were properly treating each patient before moving on to the next one,” said Dr Barry.
Dr Barry, who has been based in Caithness for 25 years, took on the lease on the new clinic, which was built by NHS Highland at a cost of £1.2 million, with the intention of running it as an NHS committed practice.
The standard general dental practitioner (GDP) lease was one of the first of its type to be agreed in Scotland. It set conditions requiring that a minimum of 80 per cent of the practice’s gross income be derived from NHS dental services, and that the practice delivers services for 6,000 NHS patients. The lease also requires the practice to participate in the NHS Highland dental out-of-hours service.
NHS Highland Dental Service Development Manager Alex Fraser said: “We are delighted that Dr Barry and his team, in conjunction with the Wick Salaried Dental Team, are making such a valuable contribution to improving dental health in Caithness by significantly improving access to NHS dental care.”
She explained that priority had been given to patients registered with the Salaried Dental Team, which used to provide a service in Thurso, and to those on the waiting list for NHS registration. However, patients were given the option of accessing dental care from the Salaried Dental Team in Wick, if they preferred.
“We built the new Dunbar Dental Clinic to address the very serious access problem that had developed in Caithness, and it is good to see that our investment, and that of Dr Barry and his team, is now benefiting so many people.”