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​Dental funding boost mustn't forget services for Wales' most vulnerable

The British Dental Association Wales has welcomed commitments for additional funding for high street NHS dental services, but stressed support must also be provided to community services, treating the nation's most vulnerable adults and children.

Minister for Health and Social Services Eluned Morgan MS has pledged additional funding for access to NHS dental services in Wales, allocating “up to £3m to Health Boards in 2021-2022 to expedite the recovery of services and bolster urgent and emergency care” and an additional “£2m in recurrent funding from 2022-23 to allow Health Boards to increase access and capacity needs over the medium term”.

While BDA Wales has welcomed the additional support, it has emphasised it is unlikely to prove a game changer as long as strict pandemic protocols remain in force. These include maintaining gaps of up to an hour - known as fallow time - between most treatments, that have slashed capacity across the service. The length of these gaps can be reduced by high volume ventilation.

There are no indications additional funds will be made available to community dental services. While NHS high street practices have already been offered capital funding for ventilation upgrades, it has not been offered on the same basis to the community services, treating those who cannot be cared for in mainstream settings. Yearlong waiting times for treatment were not uncommon in community services pre-COVID.

Katrina Clarke, Chair of the BDA's Welsh Council said:

"This is welcome investment but is unlikely to be a game changer for high street dentists, who are still working to tight restrictions that set clear limits on the number of patients they can treat.

"However, Ministers must recognise the community dentists treating the most vulnerable in Wales need to be thrown a lifeline. Colleagues are delivering care to patients with complex needs out of premises that are in dire need of upgrades, particularly when it comes to ventilation.

"Yearlong waiting times will remain the norm until we see comprehensive support."