NHS dentistry is “on the brink”, a union has warned, as it hit out at the scaling back of financial support for the sector.
Concerns have been raised over the future sustainability of NHS dentistry by the British Dental Association (BDA).
The organisation, which represents dentists in the UK, has called on the Scottish Government to develop a suitable interim funding package to support dentists and their teams as they work through backlogs brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
For the last three months, practices have received a 1.7 multiplier to the fees paid to provide NHS care.
In a letter issued to dentists on Tuesday, the Scottish Government announced that the multiplier will be pared down to 1.3 for the next three months.
The Government stated that it had been “greatly encouraged” to see a significant increase in the volume of examination appointments and the levels of care being delivered closer to pre-pandemic levels.
And it said that in reviewing the multiplier, the Government had looked at a range of factors including overall levels of activity and affordability.
However, the BDA claims that the reduction was made with no dialogue with the profession.
The organisation has also warned that treatment can often be delivered at a loss, particularly in deprived communities, with policies potentially leading to dentists leaving the sector.
David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee. warned against the multiplier being cut.
“Ministers are playing with fire, pulling away the life support from a service millions depend on,” he said.
“This multiplier helped ensure NHS dentists received fees for care that actually covered their costs.
“Slashing them will leave colleagues churning out dentures at a loss while thinking twice about their future.
“Scotland has already lost too many NHS dentists since lockdown. Ministers are now blindly heading down the path the Westminster Government has chosen, which has sparked an exodus.
“Cuts have consequences. The Scottish Government promised free NHS dentistry for all. Short-sighted policies like this will likely result in the exact opposite, and stark oral health inequalities will only widen further.”
Health secretary Humza Yousaf pointed to improvements in dentistry with a rise in the number of examination appointments taking place.
“We have been greatly encouraged by the substantial improvements made by dentists in increasing access to NHS dentistry in the last three months,” said Yousaf.
“More than 232,000 examination appointments took place in April, compared with a monthly average of 125,000 for the first three months of the year – an increase of 85% in one month.
“We are on track for around 700,000 examination appointments for the three months to the end of June, almost double that in the first three months of this year.
“By continuing these interim arrangements we are supporting the progress in tackling the backlog in routine care and ensuring the sector is able to quickly return to more normal levels of activity.”
He added: “Considerable progress has been made in NHS dental services and oral health improvements – progress that was interrupted by the unique challenges of the pandemic.
“It is our ambition to regather that momentum and ensure we have a NHS dental service that is unequalled in the world today.”