I’ve had the same dentist for the last nearly thirty years, ever since I first came to Whitstable: Howard Paterson of Kelvin House in Nelson Road.
I think I can say that we’ve always got on – as much as you can say that about anyone whose relationship with you is entirely based upon them delving around on the inside of your mouth. At least he recognises me in the street, which is more than I can say for my doctor.
When I first went to see him Kelvin House was, like most dentists, an NHS practice. Over the years it went private, but it still maintained its existing NHS patients. I was one of them, and I’ve been going there ever since.
Until last week, that is, when I was told that I could no longer see Mr Paterson as an NHS patient, hence my sudden need to find a new dentist.
Actually it’s not only about the cost: it’s also the principle. I am an NHS patient, like my parents and my grandparents before me, and I always intend to remain so.
The case of dentistry shows the effects of privatisation on the Health Service. Prior to the 1980s we had universal dental care provided by the NHS. Since then we’ve seen an increasingly polarised dental care system, in which some people can afford to go private, while the rest are forced to make do with a second class service.
For years, until the opening of the Whitstable Dental Centre on Oxford Street, there wasn’t even an NHS dentist in the town.
The argument that is usually given for this is one of “choice”. It is the same argument being put forward for the opening up of the Health Service to private contractors which took place on April 1st this year.
But this “choice” is an illusion. Choice only exists for those that can afford it, which means it isn’t a choice, it’s a privilege. Those that cannot afford it have no choice.
Meanwhile, the dentist I’ve trusted for 30 years is no longer my dentist, and I’m forced to start looking around for someone else.