SNP's rotten policies are driving dentists out of the NHS and into private practice – Jackie Baillie

The very existence of NHS dentistry is in doubt on the SNP’s watch

When did you last visit the dentist? According to the dental industry, 69 per cent of practices in Scotland have not yet cleared the post-pandemic backlog of patients and 35 per cent said it would take more than two years. So the answer to that question recently is that it’s unlikely many people have been able to find the time for our teeth or that our NHS dentists have been able to find time for us.

If you don’t have a dentist, your chances of getting registered with an NHS one are now slim. Last year the BBC revealed four out of five NHS dentists in Scotland are not accepting new adult patients for health service treatment. Dental hygiene is a personal question but it’s also a huge political one. There is an exodus of dentists from the NHS into private practice, leaving massive inequality in dental care.

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Now, the SNP government has said that more than 95 per cent of the population were registered with an NHS dentist. But it is of no comfort that researchers last year could not find any dentists taking on adult NHS patients in nine Scottish local authorities. Meanwhile, nearly 80 per cent of NHS practices were not accepting new child patients.

It is seriously doubtful that the latest government negotiations with the British Dental Association will address these issues. Two years after the SNP pledged to abolish dentistry charges for those under 26, many other patients will simply see an increase in the costs for NHS treatments. The complete reform of the sector, which dentists want to see to ensure access for millions of people who need treatment, was not seriously addressed in the talks.

David McColl, who led the negotiations as the Scottish Dental Practice Committee’s chair, said the NHS dentistry system was “broken” and fundamental reform is needed. The BDA rightly wants a clean break to a new patient-centred and prevention-focused model. Holyrood’s Covid Recovery Committee recently called on the Scottish Government to consult on different options, including a model that tackles inequality and enhances prevention.

It seems only reasonable that a full range of options be considered but anyone who has observed SNP policymaking over the years knows nationalist ministers do not like receiving advice which challenges their worldview. David McColl’s judgment after talks with the department headed by public health minister Jenny Minto was damning: “The Scottish Government have stuck with a drill-and-fill model designed in the 20th century. They were unwilling to even start a conversation on making this service fit for the 21st.”

The dental industry’s view is that the SNP’s payment reform plans simply risk forcing more and more dentists into the arms of private practice. Like them, I struggle to see how these changes in charging alone will close the oral health gap, end the access crisis, or halt the exodus from the NHS.

For years, dentists have been let down by this SNP government and now the very existence of NHS dentistry is in doubt on their watch. The government must listen to dentists and implement proper reform before access to dentistry becomes even worse. The SNP’s rotten influence is decaying but it shouldn’t end by taking what remains of NHS dentistry in Scotland with it.

Jackie Baillie MSP is Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson



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