SNP accused of 'abandoning NHS dentistry' amid increased waiting times

Ministers have been accused of “abandoning” NHS dentistry after new figures laid bare increased waiting times across Scotland.

Average waits for outpatient dentistry treatment have increased in 12 health board areas since 2019, according to data released through freedom of information laws.

Responses provided to the Scottish Liberal Democrats showed one patient in the Lothians had to wait 169 weeks for outpatient treatment in 2022 – more than three years.

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For inpatient and day case treatments, the longest a patient had to wait last year was 146 weeks in NHS Borders, up from 67 weeks in 2019, which was recorded by NHS Tayside.

Picture: PA

Average waits increased across eight health boards for this type of treatment. The data compared average waiting times for each year between 2019 and 2022.

The Liberal Democrats said the funding structure for dentistry should be reformed to encourage practices to take on NHS patients.

Party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The SNP are abandoning NHS dentistry. These figures show that over the past four years, long waits have soared. Scots are being left in pain.

"Ministers are so obsessed with their plots to break up the UK that any pretence of doing the day job has fallen by the way side.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats are now calling for a rewrite of the NHS recovery plan so that dentists are properly recognised and fresh resources are provided for our NHS to tackle these long waits.”

Dentist leaders have previously warned of an “unprecedented backlog”, with services on a “cliff edge”.

Last year, the Liberal Democrats revealed one in 10 dentists in Scotland had stopped carrying out NHS treatments since the onset of the Covid pandemic.

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Compared to 2019/20, 404 fewer dentists were recorded as having performed NHS activity.

Speaking at the time, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: "It's been getting harder and harder to see a dentist on the NHS, even if you're registered with a practice. We found people turning to DIY dentistry in pain and desperation."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Over 1.5 million NHS examination appointments were completed between April and October with an average of more than 300,000 courses of treatment per month, meaning we are on course for over 3.5 million contacts in the 2022/23 financial year.

“No one in Scotland will be left in pain when waiting for dental treatment – hospitals triage patients and see them as quickly as they can as appropriate to their need. Dentistry is an important part of our recovery plan and we’re working with boards to address the backlog created by the pandemic, both in dental practices and hospitals.

“We introduced ambitious targets in July last year for NHS Scotland to address the backlog of planned care, undoubtedly exacerbated by the pandemic. We are working with NHS Boards to maximise capacity to meet these targets and recognise the impact long waiting times can have on patients.

“Since the introduction of the targets, the latest statistical data shows progress on tackling the long waits continues, with almost 53,500 patients seen in the quarter to the end of September – the highest number in one quarter since the start of the pandemic.”



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