Scotland risks going back 'entire generation' says senior dentist

A senior dentist has warned that Scotland risks going back an “entire generation” in terms of dental care if the profession doesn’t receive vital support from the government during the coronavirus pandemic.

Senior dentist warns Scotland risks going back an "entire generation"

Leanne Branton, principal at Southside Dental Care in Edinburgh, laid out in stark terms the risk of practices closing their doors as a result of financial pressures - a move that would see patients “swamp the NHS”.

Branton set up the practice, which looks after 13,000 patients, from all parts of the community across every age group, 12 years ago and caters to the needs of both NHS and private clients.

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The 39-year-old said it was a common misconception that NHS and private dentistry are separate when they are intertwined with every NHS practice doing some element of private work.

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She said most dental practices miss out on the £10,000 grant for small businesses because the rateable value of their property is too high and they are not entitled to the £25,000 grant on offer from the Scottish Government because they are not in the hospitality or retail sectors.

Branton is one of a number of senior dentists who signed a letter last Tuesday that was sent to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, asking the Scottish Government to provide urgent financial support.

The letter, on behalf of 3,000 dentists from across Scotland follows a recent survey by the British Dental Association (BDA) that found 68 per cent of dental practices will not survive beyond three months of lockdown.

Branton said: “We are looking realistically at going back an entire generation, losing decades of progress we’ve made in dentistry if we lose all these dental practices.

“The important thing is that they have to realise that they need to support the mixed and private practices better.

“If those practices go under - the patients will swamp the NHS practices.

“They don’t have the figures of how many patients are registered privately but the estimate is between 350-400,000 people..

“We expanded before lockdown at our practice and we were taking on 120 NHS patients per month for the last six months.

“But we won’t be able to take on new patients because our focus will be on catching up with our existing ones. There is undoubtedly going to be a loss of access for patients

“We really want to get across the real risk to health.”

She added: “We are an essential service but we’re being treated as if we’re not and I’m so worried about the future for our patients and I think it’s important that people understand private and NHS practices are interdependent.

“I think practices face a real risk of bankruptcy down the line but our priority has to be getting our patients looked after first and then worry about the money.

“I think people have the perception that this is a temporary blip - but our worry is that the problems are going to be for the longer term.”

Last month 101 MPs from all parties signed a letter sent to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for dental practices to receive financial support.

The move came amid fears expressed by Mick Armstrong, BDA chairman who warned of people taking ‘matters into their own hands’ and resorting to ‘DIY dentistry’ unless the UK Government takes rapid action.

Branton said: “Although we completely understand why we had to shut down and stop our routine day-to-day work. It happened so quickly that we feel like we almost had to abandon our patients.

“This was not the dentists’ choice and we’re very aware that now there are a lot of patients who desperately need our help and we’re unable to help them.

“In our practice we’ve provided a 7-day a week phone service to give advice to patients and we’re averaging around 10-12 calls per day of patients who need work done, who need help.

“We’ve had everything from lost filings, to really distressing calls from parents whose children are in pain.

“People who are in significant levels of pain, we are unable to help them and I know we are by no means alone. I’ve spoken to colleagues who have had patients who have been in pain for between 4-6 weeks with significant toothache.

“It’s so distressing for these patients to go through.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are determined to help keep companies in business, including private dental practices. Maintaining our productive base will be critical for our economic recovery and employment.

Our financial support now exceeds the business support consequentials passed on from the UK Government and actively works to fill the gaps in the UK scheme.

“We have offered a package of support worth £2.3 billion which includes 1.6% rates relief including dental practices for all non-domestic properties in 2020-21 and 100% relief for properties in retail, hospitality, leisure and airports.

“Small businesses, including dentists, receiving the Small Business Bonus Scheme may also be eligible for the newly extended £10,000 Small Business Grant.

“We have also put in place 56 Urgent Dental Care Centres in each NHS Board area across Scotland so people can still be seen if they require urgent dental care.

“Dental practices remain available by telephone for patients who are experiencing pain and have a dental problem and patients who are identified via triage as requiring urgent dental treatment are then directed to their relevant urgent dental care centre.”

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