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Stormont warned NHS dentistry in its final days in NI

Ahead of giving evidence to Stormont’s Windsor Framework Democratic Scrutiny Committee, the British Dental Association has appealed to the restored Government to throw the service a lifeline, protect it from the hammer blow of the ban on amalgam fillings, and rapidly roll out changes the payment model followed by Scotland.

A devastating survey of 279 high street dentists in Northern Ireland reveals:

  • 75% of dentists in NI have reduced their NHS commitment since lockdown – by an average of a quarter. 88% now say they intend to reduce – or further reduce – that commitment in the year ahead. 49% say they are likely to go fully private.
  • Only 20% of dentists report their practices as taking on new HS registrations. Only 39% of practices say they are operating at full capacity. Almost two thirds (65%) cite higher needs patients requiring more clinical time as a factor constraining their practice from operating at pre-COVID capacity, reflecting the impact of the ongoing backlog.
  • 97% say costs to provide HS care have increased. Less than 1 in 10 (8%) believe the Department of Health has acted to adequately mitigate these costs. 97% say increased costs are putting HS dentistry at their practices at risk. 94% say expenses are a factor in determining how much HS dentistry they can provide.
  • Without the Stormont Brake being applied, a ban on dental amalgam is expected from 1 January 2025. Without mitigations being put in place by DoH, 92% say it will reduce the amount of HS activity at their practice. 92% say this will increase costs for HS activity at their practice. 91% say this will impact on higher needs patients seen at their practice. 88% say this will lead their practice to reduce or end its HS commitment.
  • 86% say authorities in NI should move at pace to roll out similar changes to the current low margin/high volume contractual framework that were rolled out in Scotland in November, which aimed to better reflect the costs of care.

The professional body stresses that no health professional should be expected to deliver NHS care at a loss, and that urgent action is needed to prevent the wholesale collapse of services across NI.

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

“NHS dentistry in Northern Ireland is on its knees, and the amalgam ban could be the final blow.

“Dentists have told us they are working in what feels like the final days of this service. Delivering Health Service care at a loss and developing private work simply to break even.

“None of this is inevitable. A restored Stormont has the power to ensure NHS dentistry can once again stand on its own two feet.

“If it doesn’t, this service will die.”