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Dentists ready to work with next Scottish Government to rebuild services

The British Dental Association has indicated it is ready to work with a future SNP government on wide-ranging pledges made in the party's manifesto, which could fundamentally change the way dentistry is delivered in Scotland.

The party has pledged to abolish patient charges over the course of the next parliament, and to work with the BDA to "shape a reformed funding arrangement for NHS dentists so that they are supported for the future".

Approximately 20% of the NHS dental budget – some £74 million in 2018/19 - is drawn from charges. The BDA believes charges represent a tangible barrier to care for those on modest incomes but will be seeking assurances that any move will not lead to a reduction in overall funding for the service.

The Scottish Budget 2021-22 provided £431 million for general dental services, a rise of just 0.6% from the year before which represents a real-terms cut at a time the service faces an unprecedented backlog. The dental budget in Scotland has been cut in real terms in three out of the last four years.

The dentists' union has warned of widening inequality following the COVID pandemic, with high street services operating at a fraction of their former capacity, with an estimated 2,500 children now facing up to year-long waits for dental extractions in hospitals.

Public Health Scotland data has shown a dramatic reduction in NHS dentistry due to COVID, which is hitting those in the most deprived communities the hardest. Between April and November 2020, the number of courses of treatment delivered was 83% lower than during the same period in 2019. Practices are operating at significantly reduced capacity to meet infection control protocols, and the BDA is seeking capital investment in areas such as ventilation that can help restore patient volumes.

David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association's Scottish Dental Practice Committee, said:

"Dentistry in Scotland risks becoming a casualty of this pandemic. We have called for wholesale change to the way care is delivered, and we will work with the next Scottish Government to achieve that.

"These are big plans to bring down barriers to care and improve access, but they must go hand in hand with needed investment if services millions depend on are going to remain sustainable.

"Practices are now operating at a fraction of their former capacity. Dentists will need real and ongoing support if we're ever going to meet historic levels of demand."

The BDA Scotland manifesto. Bridging the Gap: Tackling Oral Health Inequalities (PDF)