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Dentists warn of ‘wholesale exodus’ from NHS without Government action

Dentists fear there could be a ‘wholesale exodus’ from the NHS (Liam McBurney/PA)
Dentists fear there could be a ‘wholesale exodus’ from the NHS (Liam McBurney/PA)

Dentists have warned there could be a “wholesale exodus” of the profession from the NHS if ministers fail to make a “serious long-term commitment” to the sector.

Robert Donald, chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish council, was speaking after new figures showed an 8% fall in the number of NHS practitioners since the Covid pandemic.

Data covering the first eight months of 2022-23 reveals Scotland has 3,155 dentists carrying out work on the NHS, compared to 3,407 in 2019-20.

Dentists fear that without changes to the “high volume/low margin model” that NHS dentistry is based on, more will leave the profession.

Mr Donald said: “Ministers need to understand that Scotland can’t have NHS dentistry without NHS dentists.”

Dentist checks teeth
The British Dental Association said some NHS treatments are being delivered at a loss to dentists (PA)

He insisted dentists in the NHS have “little sense of what the future will bring when the last pandemic support is pulled away”.

But he added: “What they do know is this service hasn’t bounced back, and that some NHS treatments are now being delivered at a loss.

“The Scottish Government needs to make a serious long-term commitment to prevent a wholesale exodus from the NHS.”

His comments came as the Scottish Liberal Democrats accused the Government of an “unacceptable failure” to support dentists.

A request using freedom of information legislation by the Liberal Democrats to Public Health Scotland found 11 of the country’s regional health boards now have fewer NHS dentists than they did in 2019-20.

Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, has 59 fewer, while NHS Lothian has seen a reduction of 54.

Only three health board areas – NHS Western Isles, NHS Orkney and NHS Forth Valley – have not seen a drop.

Alex Cole-Hamilton said dentists feel it is ‘simply less hassle to work privately’ (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Today’s figures point to this Government’s unacceptable failure to support NHS dentistry in Scotland.”

He said dentists are no longer prepared to work for the NHS because of the low rates they receive and “the barriers thrown in their way by Scottish Government ministers”.

Mr Cole-Hamilton added: “For many of them, the pandemic was the last straw. They have decided it is simply less hassle to work privately.

“Liberal Democrat research recently revealed that one in five of those who cannot get a dentist appointment decide to turn to unlicensed alternatives or perform dental work on themselves. That is simply barbaric.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that toothcare, like any other form of healthcare, should be universally accessible – it cannot just be for those who can afford to pay privately.”

Liberal Democrats had been “instrumental” in ensuring free dental checks in Scotland, he said, adding they are also pressing for new dental schools to address shortages, especially in more rural areas.

Mr Cole-Hamilton demanded that the Scottish Government rewrites its coronavirus recovery plan for the NHS to “give dentists the recognition they deserve and to reform funding structures so that dentists can once again take on NHS patients”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “A record number of people are registered with an NHS dentist, covering more than 95% of the population of Scotland, and across key treatments NHS dental services are at comparable levels of activity to levels last seen before pandemic restrictions were introduced. Dentistry is an important part of our NHS Recovery Plan.

“More than 1.5 million NHS examination appointments were completed between April and October, with an average of more than 300,000 courses of treatment per month, meaning we are on course for more than 3.5 million contacts in the 2022/23 financial year.

“In total, the Scottish Government has provided over £150 million to date in additional support to maintain the capacity and capability of the sector.”