A free dental service aimed at helping Kaikohe residents in dire need of treatment has been axed after its parent company went into receivership.
The end of the free clinics, which were supposed to be a trial for a Far North-wide, koha-based dental service, was ''heart-breaking,'' according to Doug Healey, who had been hired to run the Northland operation.
The closure left 1300 people waiting for treatment, 150 of them in severe ("emergency level") pain.
The free service was an initiative of high-profile Ngāpuhi dentist Scott Waghorn, who sent some of his Smilecare mobile dental clinics north while they were idle during the Auckland lockdown. There was an initial setback when the trucks were turned back at the Northland 'border,' for reasons that remain unclear, but by September 2 the clinics were operating at Horeke and on Broadway, Kaikohe.
They were staffed by Smilecare dentists and hygienists from Auckland, with two Kaikohe women hired to train as technicians.
On October 9, however, the staff and equipment were recalled to Auckland, when part of the Smilecare group of businesses was placed into receivership.
Under receivership a company that can't pay its bills is placed in the hands of another firm while it trades its way out of debt or is sold.
In the five weeks that the service operated in Kaikohe and Horeke, 2000 people registered, 700 were seen by a dentist, and 600 teeth were extracted. (Kaikohe's population is just over 4000).
''It's heart-breaking. We hadn't even pushed hard (to get patients). I think we just scratched the surface," Healey said, adding that he had been shocked by the number of children, about 30 per cent of patients, in dire need of dental treatment. Parents had told him their children had been on a waiting list for months, or that there just weren't enough dentists to go around.
His long-term plan had been to set up permanent, koha-based dental clinics, starting in Kaikohe, and he had already begun looking for suitable premises. The service would have been viable with at least some outside funding, ''but no one's come to the party.''
He hadn't given up, however, saying he knew of some dental hygienists who were keen to "come home" to Kaikohe, but if he did managed to get a new service off the ground it wouldn't be until early next year.
Mere Mangu, chair of Te Rūnanga-a-iwi o Ngāpuhi, said she had supported Waghorn's initiative from the outset.
''He's the first person who's come to Ngāpuhi and offered something for nothing," she said, adding that it might have worked out differently if iwi chairs hadn't blocked the mobile clinics when Smilecare first tried to come north.
The response to the service highlighted the huge need in Kaikohe and Hokianga, she said, and she would be making a point of putting a case to new Minister of Health Andrew Little.
''It's a long shot, but it's worth it,'' she said.