Covid Scotland: Third of NHS dentists may leave profession in next year without policy change, warns union

Scotland is set for an “exodus” from NHS dentistry unless pandemic funding support is extended, the British Dental Association (BDA) has said.

The union continues to campaign against a decision from the Scottish Government to withdraw all pandemic emergency support to dental practices by April 1, 2022.

According to a survey by the BDA of over 1,000 dentists, some 38 per cent said they are likely to change career or seek early retirement if the policy goes ahead.

One in ten said their practice is likely to stop operating and 80 per cent estimated their practice would reduce its NHS commitment.

Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

The BDA has said a planned return to pre-pandemic levels of dentistry would put practices under “unsustainable” financial pressure and lead to closures and moves to the private sector.

David McColl, chair of the BDA’s Scottish dental practice committee said: “Free NHS dentistry for all is a worthy ambition. Rather than exploring ways to actually achieve that goal, the Scottish Government has blindly headed down a road that could destroy this service.

“Covid has slashed our capacity, yet emergency support will end. Yes, ministers have offered some support, but with small print many practices simply could not sign up to in good conscience.

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“Dentists are unwilling to be shackled to a corpse. When aid hinges on committing to an NHS model that is now frankly unsustainable, it is unsurprising take up appears so modest.

“We doubt Humza Yousaf wants to be remembered as the man who killed NHS dentistry in Scotland. Without a willingness to reflect on choices made in recent weeks, that risks being his legacy.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the warning “could not be more stark”.

“These plans raise the threat of many dentists leaving our NHS and practices shutting their doors,” he said.

“Patients who can afford to will be forced to go private, while those who can’t face being denied dental treatment altogether. That is completely unacceptable.

“NHS dentists have been severely hit by the Covid crisis and the backlog of appointments is ever growing. Humza Yousaf must urgently listen to dentists’ concerns over how they will be funded in future as they aim to recover from the pandemic.”

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said the warning from the BDA “makes it abundantly clear that the very existence of NHS dentistry in Scotland is on the line”.

She said: “By removing support at this crucial point, the SNP is threatening to force scores of dentists out of the profession or into the private sector.

“This will lead to thousands of Scots going without vital dental treatment and will lead to a two-tier system in this country.

“We cannot let this happen.

“The health secretary must listen to the professionals on the frontline and think again.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton labelled the Scottish Government’s proposals “wholly inadequate”.

He said: “The BDA are right to sound the alarm. The last thing Scotland needs is a mass exodus as dentists stream for the exits.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.

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