JUST over a year ago the small town of Leiston on the Suffolk coast had two dental practices that took on both NHS and private patients.
Now it has none. Both practices have upped and left us high and dry. They were both owned by huge companies that were more interested in shareholder profits rather than running a service free at the point of use.
Our local Tory Cabinet minister, Therese Coffey, seems indifferent to the town’s plight.
She suggested we ring around and find other dentists. There aren’t any!
People cannot find an NHS dentist willing to take them on within a 50-mile radius.
Our rural bus services have been cut and our nearest railway station is five miles away.
The waiting lists at some dentists are so long it could be up to five years before being seen. People are being forced to go private and put themselves into debt.
Local communist activist Steve Marsling says: “So I wrote a letter to the East Anglian Daily Times pointing out that NHS services are going backwards.
“I wrote that, in 1948, Nye Bevan promised dental care free to all and that this Tory government was reneging on that commitment.
“I signed it in my role as chair East Suffolk Communist Party. It was reprinted and a huge wave of support for the letter followed.
“So along with other CP members we set up a ‘Toothless in Leiston’ petition, got out the paste-up table, complete with plastic rotting teeth, wind-up chattering gnashers and a banner “Save our NHS dental services in Leiston.”
Then we took to the high street. People were queuing up to sign. The East Anglian Daily Times sent a video team and a reporter.
The local radio station ABC Radio gave me 20 minutes on air. The local butcher and greengrocer demanded petition sheets for their shops. The support has been overwhelming.
“The personal cases related to us at the stall have been quite distressing at times. A young man with an abscess travelling a 60-mile round trip to a private dentist that charged him a month’s rent money.
“A woman who told that the moment she stepped over the private dentist’s doormat the charge would be £225 before any treatment! People in pain people worried for their children’s future.
“The campaign has been widened to take in the whole of the Suffolk area. As the situation is just as bad in other towns.
“In neighbouring Cambridgeshire more than 50 per cent of adults have no access to NHS dental care.
“In many cases, dentists require citizens to attend for ‘check-ups’ every six months.
“These cost up to £30 a time. That is the equivalent of a £60 NHS annual ‘membership fee.’ We intend to challenge this practice which means many have to live in pain or go without.
“I have to say the response from the local Labour Party has been disappointing so far. The campaign has been organised by local communists but the petition is not party political.
“Local Labour supporters have taken the trouble to sign, but official offers to help have not been received.
“This is just the start of the campaign. We intend to ramp it up and spread it.”
Marsling is standing as the Communist Party candidate in the Aldeburgh and Leiston by-election on July 8.
The lack of local NHS dental services will be at the forefront of the campaign.
Marsling says: “I would urge all trade unionists and socialists to get out their paste-up tables and get a petition going. Enough is enough.
“It’s 2021 and people can’t get a dentist. I could in 1951 when I was born. Seventy years of living under capitalism and we are going backwards. Join our campaign.”