A company contracted to set up eight new NHS dental practices in North Wales are encouraging prospective patients to apply for registration online or by text, to prevent people from queuing up outside to register.
Online and text list application was stipulated by the local health boards as part of the tender for supplying NHS dentistry services. The contract was awarded to Norwich-based private healthcare company Oasis Dental Care.
Adverts placed in the local Welsh press told readers that every household that applies online or by SMS will be entered into a lottery for registration. If successful, their chosen practice will telephone for a registration appointment. As well as online or text application, people can also phone a hotline or apply by post.
"Your details will be added to a list from which applicants will be randomly selected," says the advert. However, it warns there could be a long wait to for an opportunity to register: "Potential applicants should be aware that it could take anything up to two years for a new practice to see the total volume of patients it can servce."
Critics have expressed concern that offering online and text registrations could potentially unfairly penalise for those who are unable to use the technology, or the elderly and less well-off.
However, Guy Blanfield, operations manager at Oasis Dental Care, told E-Health Insider: "The principal issue is that we don’t want queues round the door. The last thing we want to do is discriminate against anybody."
Online and text registrations are currently running neck and neck in first for application methods. Post was third, said Blanfield, who was keen to stress that an application for registration did not guarantee an immediate place on a list. The initial round was "successful", he said, with more than enough applicants for places already received.
John Williams, assistant director of primary care for the Conwy Local Health Board said that every method of application would be given equal treatment. "What Oasis have done is put in an advertisement in the press giving people various options.
"Patient can either visit the website, they can text, they can fill in the form that’s part of the advert as well or they can phone NHS Direct."
Anybody who does turn up in person to register with a dental practice will be given a form to fill in to enter the consideration process. Duplicate registrations will be discarded.
People wishing to register online are being directed to Oasis’s site at http://wales.oasisdentalcare.com/, where they are invited to enter their postcode, number of people who wish to be considered for registration, desired practice and contact number.
Text registrations are handled by the user texting a shortcode with the word "Dentist", followed by a letter representing the practice, the number of people and the user’s postcode; for example, ‘Dentist F 4 CH6 5YN’ for four people at the Flint practice.
Blanfield defended the use of the lottery system: "It’s fair to say that population of North Wales is greater than the amount of people that we can see in these practices." He added that Oasis was committed to achieving the Welsh Assembly’s target of having 50% of the population registered with an NHS dentist
After the initial rush, registrations will be looked at on a ‘week by week’ basis. "We feel quite strongly that queuing round the door is not the fair way to do this," he said, saying that elderly people shouldn’t have to queue in the cold to register for a dentist.
While Oasis had tried online registration before, said Blanfield, nothing had been attempted on this scale so far.
Local papers in North Wales have been reporting the lack of NHS dentistry places available. David Jones, MP for Clwyd West told the Denbighshire Free Press: "Literally every week I get constituents coming who are saying they cannot get a dentist. This is a start but there is a long way to go."
Eight practices have now opened this month and are processing registrations all over the North Wales area, from Mold near the English border to Caernarfon on the north-west coast.