A council has been criticised for not doing enough to improve the ongoing dental crisis in Darlington. 

Dental services are due to return to Firthmoor Community centre more than a year after they closed. The former Burgess & Hyder practice was disbanded in March 2023 and hopes of a quick transition to a new provider were soon dismissed after contractual issues. 

Local councillors say they have fought tirelessly to reinstate the practice at the centre, which is run by a local charity, but the process has been delayed due to NHS “bureaucracy” and a lack of council help. 

Cllr Kevin Nicholson, Independent member for Eastbourne, said the delay has been frustrating for the thousands of patients who have gone without treatment. 

“We have had no support from the council,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS). 

“They haven’t stepped foot in here or reached out to the charity to ask how it’s doing. If they were really interested in supporting people and getting a resolution then they could have put weight behind it. I’m really disappointed that they have been lacking in their support of a community charity and the residents in this area.”

The campaign to reopen the practice even reached Parliament on multiple occasions, as the town’s Conservative MP Peter Gibson repeatedly lobbied for the NHS Integrated Care Board (ICB) to improve the issues with dentistry in Darlington. 

Conservative leader Cllr Jonathan Dulston, and also member for Eastbourne, said the delays were avoidable. He told the LDRS: “The situation here could have been solved much sooner had it not been for the layers of bureaucracy that exist in the NHS. 

“The council doesn't seem to have a grip on dentistry in this town. What I don’t see is support from the leadership in trying to push this agenda forward.”

The North East NHS ICB confirmed it has signed a contract to offer short-term interim urgent dental services but was “unable to comment more broadly during the pre-election period”. More details are due to be revealed later this year. 

Responding to allegations of a lack of support from the local authority, Darlington Council said it has worked with NHS Commissioners to improve dental services in the town.

A spokeswoman added: “This has included highlighting the needs of our local residents which helped secure these additional appointments and the awarding of a contract to provide an NHS dentist surgery to replace the service that was previously lost from the Eastbourne area. 

“This extra provision of dentist capacity compliments ongoing preventative approaches led by the council including supporting good tooth brushing habits and encouraging reducing the amount of sugar consumed which will all help prevent dental decay.”

Labour council leader Cllr Stephen Harker also refuted the claims from opposition members, saying the NHS had made Darlington a “key priority” for improved services. 

Cllr Harker added: “It is the Conservative government that is responsible for the NHS and dental services, and the crisis that is leading so many residents to suffer - yet another example of how Britain isn’t working after 14 years of Conservative rule. 

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“So, rather than bicker and argue, local Conservatives and those who work for them, should point the criticism to where it’s due - their Conservative chums in Westminster. 

“Labour has a national recovery plan for dentistry and only a vote for Labour at a General Election will fix the dental crisis in Britain.”

Mr Gibson 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.”