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Dentists accuse ministers of ‘pulling away life support’ with reduction in fees

Dentists have accused the Scottish Government of ‘playing with fire’ over a reduction in fees (Liam McBurney/PA)
Dentists have accused the Scottish Government of ‘playing with fire’ over a reduction in fees (Liam McBurney/PA)

Dentists have claimed the Scottish Government is “playing with fire” and is “pulling away the life support” from the service with plans to reduce payment rates.

The British Dental Association hit out after Health Secretary Humza Yousaf informed NHS dentists the “multiplier” that determines payments they receive for procedures is to be set at 1.3.

In a letter to the profession, Mr Yousaf said this means that “fee claims will attract an additional 30% on top of actual activity”, with the level to be reviewed again before October.

However, David McColl, chair of the BDA’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, said the multiplier “helped ensure NHS dentists received fees for care that actually covered their costs”.

The Scottish Government is reducing this from 1.7, the BDA said, with Mr McColl stating: “Ministers are playing with fire, pulling away the life support from a service millions depend on.

“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.”

He continued: “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 said the interim payments would support ‘progress in tackling the backlog in routine care’ since the Covid pandemic (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The row erupted at the same time as the Health Secretary hailed the “substantial improvements” in access to dental services since Covid restrictions eased.

The number of appointments from examinations with NHS dentists over the period April to June is expected to reach about 700,000 – almost double the total from the first three months of this year when tighter Covid restrictions were in place.

In April alone there were more than 232,000 examination appointments – an increase of 85% on the monthly average of 125 appointments that were recorded over January to March.

Mr Yousaf praised the “considerable progress” that has been made by the sector as he argued that interim arrangements for the multiplier would help support “progress in tackling the backlog in routine care and ensuring the sector is able to quickly return to more normal levels of activity”.

The Health Secretary stated: “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.”

He continued: “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.”

Chief Dental Officer Tom Ferris said: “Dentistry teams faced really incredible challenges in preventing the spread of coronavirus, that really reduced the number of patients they could see. So it is wonderful to see that so many more people have been able to see their dentist.

“Speaking to colleagues, I know that teams are working really hard to accommodate patients and provide appointments, opening early or later to fit in with patients busy lives.

“We will continue to work with our partners to provide the NHS dentistry sector the support it needs to recover from the significant challenges it has faced.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson also stated: “Additional funding for the dental sector is continuing. Dentists will receive an increase of 30% on NHS fees, at a time when infection prevention measures have been de-escalated, further improving access to dental service.

“We had regular discussions and engagements with BDA Scotland while looking at the support arrangements to avoid the cliff edge of financial uncertainty for the sector.

““We remain in a position of relative strength in terms of workforce numbers and capacity in Scotland, with 54 dentists per 100,000 of the population providing NHS dental services, compared with 42 per 100,000 in England.

“The longer-term trend shows an increase of 32% in dentists providing NHS dental services for the period 2007 to 2022 despite the incredibly challenging pandemic period, with disruptions to the education and training of dentists.”