The British Dental Association Scotland has warned Ministers they risk undermining the future sustainability of NHS dentistry, as they move to scale down vital financial support for the service.
For the last three months practices have received a 1.7 multiplier to the fees paid to provide NHS care, a reflection of the unprecedented backlog practices have faced as they try to ‘live with COVID’. The Scottish Government has now moved to pare the multiplier down to 1.3 for the next 3 months. This reduction follows no dialogue with the profession despite the BDA calling for regular discussions with the Government about the latest activity data and any proposed changes.
The discredited low margin/high volume model dentists in Scotland work to means treatment can often be delivered at a loss, a growing problem given the growing levels of unmet need, particularly among those from move deprived communities.
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 warn heavy-handed policies will only push Scottish dentists down the road of their colleagues in England, where thousands of dentists have left the NHS since lockdown, amid warnings from MPs south of the border that NHS dentistry now faces a ‘slow death’.
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. Dentists remain anxious that the Government will look to remove the multiplier altogether at the first opportunity despite its stated intention not to return to the pre-pandemic financial arrangements. The BDA has repeatedly voiced its strong opposition to a return to the pre-Covid “treadmill”.
David McColl, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee said:“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.
“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.”