NHS dentistry capacity down 52% since before pandemic, research finds

The British Dental Association will give evidence to Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee on Thursday.

NHS dentistry in Scotland faces an “existential threat” as analysis shows more than half of capacity has been lost compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The British Dental Association (BDA) will give evidence to Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee on Thursday after its research highlighted the scale of the backlogs after dentists were closed to routine care.

Comparing treatment delivered after lockdown restrictions were eased compared to pre-Covid in March 2020 found there has been a loss of 52% of dentistry capacity.

The BDA has said capacity in dentistry is significantly impacted compared to other NHS services such as GPs, where more than 30% of face-to-face appointments have been lost, and 6% for outpatient hospital appointments.

David McColl, chair of the BDA’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, said the scale of the problem means Scotland has lost more than a year’s worth of NHS dentistry.

He said: “Covid hit dentistry like no other part of the NHS in Scotland.

“We’re not asking for special treatment, just a proportionate response. One that recognises the scale of the backlogs and the existential threat to this service.

“NHS dentists are already walking away from a broken system. There can be no recovery without reform.”

Dentistry leaders in Scotland have also warned the service is at a crossroads as it faces staff shortages and rising needs from patients.

A recent BDA survey found 67% of dentists said patients requiring more clinical time is a key issue on returning to full capacity, while 61% cited recruitment and retention concerns.

It is estimated just 21% of practices have returned to their pre-Covid capacity.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We use a range of official published statistics to understand the position in dentistry and they all show a significantly improving picture since the relaxation of infection prevention controls (IPC) on the sector in April 2022.

“For example, official statistics published on May 23 by Public Health Scotland show a significant recovery in NHS dental service provision from April last year, with over 3.8 million courses of treatment completed in 2022/23, an increase of more than 40% compared with 2021/22, when IPC restrictions were in force.

“Through a combination of payment reform and working closely with NHS boards on local solutions, we are confident we will continue to see the continuation of these trends.”

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