On 22 May, the Department of Health published its budget cut proposals outlining plans to extract £360m of cuts from this year’s health budget. These cuts included an end to the Rebuilding Support Scheme (RSS) at the end of June and the associated 10% uplift in fees, while the department has also said it is not currently able to offer any pay uplift for 23/24.
Despite our open letter warning of the deeply precarious position of all dental services here, and that cuts would only serve to erode Health Service dentistry further, official confirmation of cuts came as a real gut- wrench.
It is disheartening to see the considerable efforts being made to try and progress important new policies on dental workforce, oral health improvement, and GDS contract reform seemingly overruled by unelected civil servants at the stroke of a pen, as governance underpinned by policy is replaced by governance by spreadsheet. It perpetuates a sense that things are moving backwards at the precise time when we need to see considerable progress.
We will continue to challenge these cuts for being wholly counterproductive, and to hold the Department to account for its actions, or, as it has been over recent decades, their inaction towards moving dentistry forward. That will be a key focus of our meeting with the Permanent Secretary in the coming days.
We will also be working to ensure that dental reform is squarely on the transformation agenda should the Assembly indeed be restored in the coming months along with an associated financial package/new funding arrangements for Northern Ireland. This prospect appears to be increasingly likely.
Your many letters to MLAs against cuts to dentistry have already had an impact. Sharing your personal accounts have prompted a high volume of correspondence from elected representatives to the Permanent Secretary in support of dentistry, and the reforms needed. They have secured conversations with key decision-makers and influencers around ensuring dentistry is a key consideration in what may be the next key phase, delivering far-reaching health transformation under a restored Assembly and Executive.
Health Service dentistry has suffered from a gross lack of investment and strategic direction over many years. Our message to senior politicians is that dental reform is ‘ripe for the picking’. We need urgent action now if we are to make services sustainable for future generations.
BDA Northern Ireland Director, Tristen Kelso, with former First Minister for Northern Ireland and Current DUP Health Spokesperson, Paul Givan MLA.