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Dentists: It’s make or break – without reform service won’t survive

As political parties prepare to hold roundtable talks with the Secretary of State on public finance pressures later today, the British Dental Association Northern Ireland has warned that the future of dental services hinges on urgent reform and fair funding.

The professional body has stressed they expect an accelerated exodus from the Health Service workforce in the absence of needed investment and without fundamental change to the failed contracts dentists work to.

The latest BDA survey has shown that 41% of practice owners and 38% of associate dentists in Northern Ireland would like to leave NHS dentistry as soon as possible. The professional body stressed the fees dentists receive are now financially unviable. This low margin/high volume model of care, together with mounting costs, have left many practices delivering some Health Service treatment at a loss. In Scotland – where the same model exists – the Scottish Government have recently increased fee levels across the board, to better reflect the costs of care. 

Things have worsened considerably for Health Service committed general dental practitioners in recent months: they have seen a cut to the 10% enhanced support they received at the end of June; they have also yet to receive any pay uplift for 23/24 despite a 6% uplift recommended back in July; and there is no mechanism to mitigate against rising practice-level operating costs at a time of still high inflation.

In response to the BDA, Peter May has said the Department accepts the need to do things differently in dentistry. They are looking closely at Scottish reforms, and that work is underway to establish the projected cost of introducing a similar scheme in Northern Ireland ‘to improve access for patients and ensure that the sector is sustainable in the longer term’. However, the Permanent Secretary has cautioned the need to await developments in terms of a returning Executive to progress this issue along. 

The BDA say they feel compelled to speak out to warn the public what is at stake from continued inaction.

Ciara Gallagher, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee (NIDPC) said:

“Our message to the Political Parties and the Secretary of State is clear. It’s make or break for Health Service dentistry in Northern Ireland.

“An essential service is shrinking through lack of funding, and it is patients who will pay the price.

“The Scottish Government has already shown leadership on what are the very basics: ensuring the fees paid to dentists actually cover the costs of care.  

“Dentists and their teams truly care about the service they provide. It’s time for the Department of Health to show that they do too. The time for talking is over. The time for reform is now.”