Public living with 'harsh reality' of free NHS dentistry promises 

The British Dental Association has pressed the government to step up and deliver urgent reform.

Public living with ‘harsh reality’ of NHS dentistry as Scottish Government urged to do more iStock

The public are living with the “harsh reality” of Scottish Government promises of free NHS dentistry as new research has revealed that more than eight in ten practices are unable to offer appointments to new adult patients.

The British Dental Association (BDA) has pressed the government to step up and deliver urgent reform as the industry faces a crisis.

New research from the BBC showed that in Scotland, 82% of NHS dental practices across the country were not accepting new patients.

Of those practices not taking on adults in Scotland, 39% said they had an open waiting list, and 18% said the wait time was a year or longer, or were unable to say how long it would be.

Out of 32 local authorities in Scotland, researchers did not successfully reach any practices accepting new adult NHS patients in nine.

And 79% of Scottish NHS practices were not accepting new child patients.

David McColl, chair of the BDA’s Scottish dental practice committee, said: “The Scottish Government promised free NHS dentistry for all, but the public are now living with the harsh reality. 

“You can’t run a health service on soundbites and slogans. Ministers need to take a long hard look at the evidence, and bring forward the reforms and resources we need to deliver for patients across Scotland.”

Last month BDA Scotland warned the Scottish Government risked undermining the future sustainability of NHS dentistry, as they scaled down vital financial support for the service.

Last month BDA Scotland warned the Scottish Government risked undermining the future sustainability of NHS dentistry, as they scaled down vital financial support for the service. 

In April, the way the NHS pays dentists for treatments reverted back to its pre-pandemic system – something those in the industry have said is no longer fit for purpose.

The Scottish Dental Association has said a significant number of its members are being forced to turn to private patients to balance the books and that is one of the major reasons so many are struggling to see a dentist.

Dentists in Scotland say on top of a broken payment system the NHS service is facing a shortage of staff amid its recovery from Covid-19 and have warned this could cause irrevocable damage to the industry.   

Official data suggests the total number of high street NHS dentists in Scotland has fallen by over 5% since the onset of Covid. 

The BDA has again urged the Scottish Government to, in the short term, develop a suitable interim funding package to support dentists and their teams as they work through the backlog, and begin work on a new, sustainable long-term model for NHS dentistry. 

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have also warned that there is a “risk of death” to the dental industry in Scotland after new figures revealed that hundreds of dentists are taking an early retirement.

It comes after new figures revealed that Scotland is losing hundreds of dentists to early retirement every year.

Released through freedom of information requests from the party, the statistics showed that out of 249 dentists that retired since 2015, only 14 have waited until the state pension age to do so.

Public Health Scotland figures recently revealed that the number of patients seen in 2021 was less than half when compared to 2019.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “A new system of interim dental support payments was introduced in April to support dentists to see more patients and to avoid the cliff edge of financial uncertainty for the sector.

“We continue to engage with dentists to develop a future payment system that reflects the challenges of modern dentistry and ensures patients’ needs are at the heart of our NHS dental services.

“We have supported NHS dental teams with an additional £50m of financial support (on top of their normal earnings before the pandemic) and £35m of PPE.

“We are continuing to provide additional funding to the dental sector and remain in a position of relative strength in terms of workforce numbers and capacity.

“There has been a 32% increase in the number of dentists providing NHS services in Scotland in the past 15 years, meaning we now have 54 NHS dentists per 100,000 of the population, compared with 42 per 100,000 in England.”

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