Dentists are ready to work with next Scottish Government to rebuild services, says BDA Scotland.

The British Dental Association has indicated it is ready to work with a future SNP government on wide-ranging pledges made in the party’s manifesto. This could fundamentally change the way dentistry is delivered in Scotland.

The party has pledged to abolish patient charges over the course of the next parliament. They will work with the BDA to shape a reformed funding arrangement for NHS dentists so that they are supported for the future.

Approximately 20% of the NHS dental budget – some £74 million in 2018/19 – is drawn from charges. The BDA believes charges represent a tangible barrier to care for those on modest incomes. They will be seeking assurances that any move will not lead to a reduction in overall funding for the service.

The Scottish Budget 2021- 22 provided £431 million for general dental services. This is a rise of just 0.6% from the year before. Ultimately, this represents a real-terms cut at a time the service faces an unprecedented backlog. The dental budget in Scotland has been cut in real terms in three out of the last four years.

Hit the hardest

The dentist’s union has warned of widening inequality following the COVID pandemic. High street services are operating at a fraction of their former capacity. An estimated 2,500 children now face up to year-long waits for dental extractions in hospitals.

Public Health Scotland data has shown a dramatic reduction in NHS dentistry due to COVID-19. This is hitting those in most deprived communities the hardest. Between April and November 2020, the number of courses of treatment delivered was 83% lower than during the same period in 2019.

Practices are operating at significantly reduced capacity to meet infection control protocols. The BDA is seeking capital investment in areas such as ventilation that can help restore patient volumes.

David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish dental practice committee said: ‘Dentistry in Scotland risks becoming a casualty of this pandemic.

‘We have called for wholesale change to the way care is delivered, and we will work with the next Scottish Government to achieve that.

‘These are big plans to bring down barriers to care and improve access. But they must go hand in hand with needed investment if services that millions depend on are going to remain sustainable.

‘Practices are now operating at a fraction of their former capacity. Dentists will need real and ongoing support if we’re ever going to meet historic levels of demand.’

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This article first appeared in Dentistry Scotland magazine. You can read the latest issue here.