40,000 patients vanish from NHS dentist lists in one year
"These registration figures are disappointing and confirm what patients across Scotland already know - that it has become increasingly difficult to access an NHS dentist. In many areas of Scotland, people have found it difficult to find an NHS dentist because so many surgeries leave for private practice. - ANDREW LAMB, BRITISH DENTAL ASSOCIATION
Story in full TENS of thousands of patients are still dropping off NHS dental lists in Scotland despite a massive investment programme aimed at reversing the decline, new figures have revealed.
In March last year, ministers pledged 295 million in new funding to increase the number of Scots registered with NHS dentists by 400,000 by 2008.
But far from growing since then, new Executive statistics show the number has in fact fallen by more than 40,000 to 2.59 million in the year to March - a drop of almost two per cent.
Dentists said the situation could get even worse unless the Scottish Executive addresses "serious flaws" in its programme. But the Executive insisted its massive investment would start to bear fruit next year.
Dr Andrew Lamb, national director for the British Dental Association in Scotland, said the fall in NHS-registered patients was due to a drop in places available at practices across the country.
"These registration figures are disappointing and confirm what patients across Scotland already know - that it has become increasingly difficult to access an NHS dentist," he said. In many areas of Scotland, people have found it difficult to find an NHS dentist because so many surgeries leave for private practice.
By the time they are five years old, more than 56 per cent of all Scottish children have dental disease, such as cavities and tooth decay.
It is unclear how many of those people unable to access the NHS are going private - or are failing to get any kind of dental treatment at all. Dr Lamb added: "Scotland does have a poor dental health record so we would like to see more people registered with a dentist."
And he stressed the problem could get worse if the Executive does not improve conditions and incentives for dentists to take on NHS patients.
"If the measures announced in the Scottish Executive's Action Plan were effective, you would expect to see this downward trend being reversed," he said.
The British Dental Association is calling for a full review of the Executive's recruitment and retention initiatives.
Stewart Maxwell, the deputy health spokesman for the SNP, said the problem was getting worse because the Executive and dentists were unable to agree.
He called for more dentists and a third dental school in Scotland. "It is not a surprise that the Executive are failing to solve this problem - every day we hear of more and more dentists leaving the NHS and more and more people having trouble getting registered with dentists," said Mr Maxwell.
"It seems that despite all the good words from the Executive they have not got to the root of the problem. There is a breakdown between the Executive and the dental profession. If they had worked together it would have now been solved."
Brian Monteith, the Independent MSP who requested the figures in a parliamentary question, said they were worrying.
"If the fall in numbers was being covered by an increase in private dentists then there would be less concern, but the real fear is that people are simply falling off their dentist's register altogether," he said.
The Executive said measures had been introduced to make it easier to register with a dentist, including extending the time a patient remains on the register even if they do not turn up for check-ups, from 15 months to three years.
The Executive has also recruited dentists from Poland and set up "golden hello" schemes to attract dentists to rural areas. A spokesman said: "We have always recognised current difficulties in accessing NHS dental services will not be solved overnight. We will not start to see the benefits of the extended registration period until next year."
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South