Go to content

Latest stats show HS dentistry a shadow of its former self

The British Dental Association has warned that new data confirms Health Service dentistry in Northern Ireland remains on the brink, and requires urgent action from the Stormont Government.

The Family Practitioner Services Dental Statistics for NI 2023/24 shows that just 821,835 patients were treated in 2023/24, 79% of pre-COVID norms and just a 2% increase on last year. The number of claims made by dentists for treatment delivered are just 70% of 2019/20 levels, an increase of just 5% on 2022/23.

Registration numbers fell by 1,825 for children and 43,008 for adults, reflecting the growing number of practices moving away from the NHS. 2023/24 also saw total fees paid to dentists drop by £10.4m compared with 2022/23.

The BDA stress an unsustainable funding model is standing in the way of a recovery, while there are worrying signs about the future for the service as almost 90% of dentists say they intend to further reduce their Health Service commitment. The low or no margin/high volume model dentists work to can leave practices delivering health service treatment at a loss, as budgets have failed to keep pace with soaring costs.

The £9.2m ’additional investment’ pledged by the Department of Health in March for a Dental Access Scheme was not new money and is based on repurposing underspend anticipated for the 2024/25 year in the existing budget. Dentist leaders have repeatedly stated that Stormont authorities need to follow the lead of the Scottish Government, who following negotiations with the BDA rolled out sweeping changes to the same payment system late last year, recalibrating fees to help stabilise the service.

News follows warnings from the BDA at the Assembly Health Committee last week that an exodus of dentists away from Health Service dentistry is already in motion. Claire Sugden MLA has since indicated that in East Londonderry constituents have called every dentist in a 20-mile radius and are unable to find any who would accept new patients.

Data continues to demonstrate that Northern Ireland tops the UK league table for oral disease, with the highest number of filled teeth per capita of any of the four UK nations among both adults and children.

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

“Health Service dentistry in Northern Ireland remains a shadow of its former self.

“The need for care is as high as ever and we remain at the bottom UK league table for oral health.

“The clock is ticking, and dedicated practices are already walking away.

“Urgent action is needed from Stormont. The lessons from Scotland could save HS dentistry. Without fair funding, this service will cease to exist”.