NHS dentistry will go from crisis to collapse if urgent reform is not taken, the British Dental Association Scotland has warned.
The stark warning was issued following a debate in the Scottish Parliament with the BDA Scotland urging ministers to deliver meaningful change by the autumn.
The body said the current model for NHS dentistry is unsustainable and would push practices into bankruptcy or the private sector.
Yesterday health minister Humza Yousaf announced a ‘bridging payment’ – originally due to lapse on 1 April 2023 – which uprated NHS fees by 1.1 would continue to October 2023.
The payment is used to incentives dentists to take on more NHS patients.
The BDA have stressed that a new sustainable model must now be found before October 31 to prevent a collapse in the industry.
Recent data indicates claims submitted by NHS dentists for dental work are 43% down on 2019 levels.
David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee said: “There was little need for a debate on whether NHS dentistry in Scotland is in crisis. On access, on workforce, on inequalities, wherever data exists it points to a service on the brink.
“The Scottish Government made the right call by not prematurely pulling the plug on vital support.
“The question is now whether come October we’ll have the reforms needed to give this service a future. Failure to do so will take us from crisis to collapse.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats attempted to declare a national “crisis” for dentistry and have accused the Scottish Government of “ministerial disinterest” on the issue.
During Wednesday’s debate, the party called for reforms to be announced and highlights Public Health Scotland (PHS) figures which last month showed that 50.4% of the population has accessed dental treatment within two years, despite 95.4% being registered on the NHS at the end of September.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “There is a dentistry crisis in Scotland, and it can be felt everywhere.”
Public health minister Maree Todd said there were “undeniable” signs of improvement in NHS dentistry access.
But Cole-Hamilton said: “It is inflicting pain on people up and down the country every single day and yet the Government amendment today would seek to delete that reality from this parliamentary proceeding.
“That is astonishing, again, a cognitive dissonance that we have come well to know from this Government with its head in the sand and the dead hand of ministerial disinterest on things that matter to real people.”
Todd said more than 1.6 million NHS dentistry examinations had been completed between April and October 2022, and 300,000 courses of treatment took place each month in 2022/23, highlighting the sector’s road to recovery.
She said: “Members will recall that patient access to NHS dental services was severely reduced during the pandemic, a sensible public health precaution required to mitigate the possible transmission of Covid-19 at dental surgeries.
“We are seeing encouraging signs in improving patient access to care. The Scottish Government supported dental practices throughout the pandemic including providing an additional £150 million to maintain the sector, that includes vital financial support payments.
“NHS dental services are on the road to recovery, and I am sure members will wish to share my admiration for NHS dental services as the sector continues to recover.”
Scottish Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the minister’s response was “tiresome, self-congratulatory spin”.
“NHS dentistry is in crisis, and this is on the SNP’s watch. Yet when we listen to the minister the message seems to be ‘aren’t we just doing well’ – but this doesn’t wash,” he said.