Dental services are poised to return to a Darlington community after residents faced over a year without treatment. 

A new provider is due to start working out of Firthmoor Community Centre later this year, the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands. The positive breakthrough comes after the former Burgess & Hyder surgery closed in March 2023. 

Local politicians and residents have since tirelessly campaigned for access to NHS treatment amid a national crisis caused by huge backlogs and practices handing back NHS contracts. 

Now, local NHS officials have confirmed a new provider will offer “short term interim” urgent dental services in the community. Work is ongoing to provide general dental services. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: A new provider will offer “short term interim” urgent dental services in the community.A new provider will offer “short term interim” urgent dental services in the community. (Image: The Northern Echo)

For Kevin Nicholson, independent councillor in the Eastbourne ward, reopening the facility and reuniting the thousands of patients in need of treatment with a provider has been a priority over the last year. 

“This area has some of the poorest oral health in Darlington and the North East so there were particular concerns about children’s access to routine dentistry,” Cllr Nicholson said. 

Children who regularly visit the community centre today have never seen a dentist before due to the difficulty to get an NHS appointment in the town. 

All of the infrastructure has remained in place since last year’s closure, as staff at the community centre hoped for a quick transition and for the site to be taken over within weeks. Instead, the site has lay empty while adding an extra financial burden onto the association in charge of the whole building. 

Cllr Nicholson added: “It’s been key to reopen the dentist to help people in the area get more appointments and access to a dentist, but also to sustain the building. Ultimately, the charity that runs the building could have decided to demolish it but they waited. There’s been a real local effort to get dental services back in here.”

Dental services first opened at Firthmoor Community Centre in 2011, and although they were reduced and scaled back before the Covid pandemic, the complete removal last year has had a huge impact on local healthcare. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: Firthmoor Community CentreFirthmoor Community Centre (Image: The Northern Echo)

Sue Morley is one of thousands of residents to have been impacted by the ongoing dental issues in the town.

“I’m worried about my teeth because I haven’t been seen for two to three years,” she said. 

“I would love to have the dentist back here but my worry is that the former patients won’t be let back in. I worry it’s going to be a free-for-all all.”

Nearby practices in Yarm Road and Neasham Road have provided a reprieve for some patients in need of treatment, but as they are both private it comes at a cost.

Asked whether she has considered paying for a check-up, Sue said: “If you are not working then how can you afford to pay? We shouldn’t be forced to go private. Dentistry is not fit for purpose.” 

The community centre’s dental clinic and its three operating rooms are larger than many dentists still operating in the town, but staff have warned that it won’t be a quick turnaround once open. Discussions are still ongoing with a local provider, politicians and North East NHS officials. 

Peter Gibson, Darlington’s Conservative MP, said the issues with dentistry in the town continues to cause concern. 

Recommended reading: 

Get unlimited access and stay connected with local news

He said: “I continue to work tirelessly to ensure that we see the Firthmoor dental practice replaced, and I will not stop until it’s up and running. I am speaking with and meeting people on almost a daily basis to bring this about.” 

A spokesman for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board said: "We can confirm that the ICB has signed a contract with a provider to offer a short-term interim urgent dental service at Firthmoor. In the meantime, we are still working to secure a new provider for general dental services for the Eastbourne ward.

"We are unable to comment more broadly during the pre-election period but will share more information with the public when the service is ready to open."