Withdrawal of Covid support in Scotland will be 'devastating', warn dentists

The withdrawal of Covid support and a return to pre-pandemic ways of working will “devastate” dental surgeries in Scotland, a trade union has warned.

Delivering high volumes of care is “simply unsustainable under current conditions”, the British Dental Association Scotland said, after health secretary Humza Yousaf wrote to dentists on Thursday indicating that all emergency support provided during the pandemic will be withdrawn from April 1, 2022.

With continued high demand and growing incidents of abuse from frustrated patients not able to get appointments, this move may push NHS staff into the private sector or out of dentistry, the union said.

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“The Scottish Government seems set to pull the rug out from under every dedicated NHS dentist,” said David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee.

Dentist Fiez Mugha and Dental Nurse Johanna Bartha carry out a procedure on a patient. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

“If ministers had an objective to decimate NHS dentistry, this approach would offer a great starting point.

"To signal the return of a ‘business as usual’ model when the country is still in the grip of a pandemic is utterly reckless. The net result will be to push colleagues out of the NHS and to leave this profession altogether.

“Ministers put NHS dentistry front and centre in their pitch for government. To deliver on their promises we need real commitment to find a new and better way for delivering for the patients that need us.”

Opposition MSPs urged the Scottish Government to reconsider its plan.

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Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie called on Mr Yousaf to “think twice and heed the calls of our hard-pressed NHS dentists”.

She said: “NHS dental services remain under incredible strain, with both dentists and patients being forced into the arms of the private sector.

“For the government to remove support before practices are back on their feet is dangerous and damaging."

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton accused the health secretary of “dropping the ball” on dentistry.

“Instead of listening to the recommendations of those dentists who have been working through the pandemic, the health secretary gave them inadequate solutions, that will see dentists and patients alike suffer,” he said.

“We are still in a pandemic and there is a real risk that removing support lead more practitioners to leave the NHS.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our commitment as a government is to build back NHS dentistry, and ensure NHS dental teams are focused on the need to tackle the backlog in routine dental care. Our plans will help them to see more patients face-to-face.

“It’s important that NHS dental teams feel supported by government and representative bodies. Which is why as a Government we have provided an additional £50 million of financial support payments, including substantial amounts of free PPE, to ensure the NHS dental services emerge well place to care for the oral health of the whole population.

“Ministers and patients have a legitimate expectation that after nearly two years of reduced access to NHS dental services, that this situation is recovered as soon as possible.

"Now is not the time to create wholesale changes to the dental sector, which would take considerable time. The priority must be on seeing patients and helping to clear current backlogs.

“This latest package builds on recent announcements of £7.5m for new dental drills and £5m for ventilation improvements, with a particular emphasis on children and tackling oral health inequalities.”

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