HYNDBURN is set to get three new NHS dentists under plans to tackle the spiralling crisis in the borough.
The Hyndburn and Ribble Valley Primary Care Trust has won funding from the Department of Health to bring in three extra dentists to the area by the beginning of October.
Health officials hope that the trio, who will be employed by the PCT, will be based in Accrington town centre and cater for up to 6,000 residents.
It is just one of the measures being considered by the PCT as it tries to fill the gap in dental health-care provision. There are currently no NHS practices in Hyndburn that are taking on new patients.
As a result, residents who are not already registered with a dentist are being forced to travel out of the area for treatment on the NHS - or pay to go private.
Dr Gary Whittle, consultant in dental public health for East Lancashire, said that a total of £350,000 had been allocated to fund the extra dentists. The money would also be put towards employing a dental nurse and reception staff, as well as towards building and equipment costs.
He said: "The success of this bid means that new money is going to be invested to support and encourage NHS dentistry in the area. The PCT is one of three in East Lancashire that are working together to develop NHS dental provision."
"In particular, we have established an East Lancashire-wide Dental Modernisation Board which has been working on an action plan to resolve the problems that patients and dentists themselves have highlighted."
A summit meeting between East Lancashire dentists and health officials is due to be held next week, during which possible solutions to the crisis will be discussed in more detail.
Plans include using an extra £133,000, which the PCT is due to receive from the Cumbria and Lancashire Strategic Health Authority, towards improving access to NHS dentists, renovating existing practices and buying specialist equipment.
A further option could be to take on final-year dental students from the University of Liverpool for teaching placements at surgeries across the region. This is set to be piloted in Blackburn and Burnley but may be extended to Accrington if it proves successful.
Dr Whittle said: "Patients requiring NHS dental services in the Hyndburn and Ribble Valley area can be reassured that we have listened to their concerns and are responding with some practical and innovative solutions."
"The funding is just one piece of the jigsaw that we are putting in place to ensure that NHS dentistry flourishes in the area."
Health minister Rosie Winterton is also set to visit the region to discuss what can be done, following a meeting with Hyndburn MP Greg Pope.
Mr Pope, who has also had meetings with PCT chief executive Mark Wilkin-son, said that the problem was down to NHS contracts in general not being attractive enough to privately-employed dentists, and it would require a long-term solution.
But he welcomed the news about the extra dentists and congratulated the PCT for its efforts.
He said: "It is brilliant news and I am sure that the many people who have written to me about this will be delighted to see this improvement. The PCT is doing a great job and it is a huge step in the right direction, although we will probably need more than this."
"I get more complaints about the problems with finding an NHS dentist than almost anything else."
"I have every sympathy with the people who come to see me about it."
"We need to look imaginatively at what kind of dental service the NHS can provide in the short-term."