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Stormont warned NHS dentistry in its ‘final days’

This service needs a lifeline, if we’re going to protect it from the hammer blow of the ban on amalgam fillings.

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Armed with devastating evidence from members, we warned Stormont’s Windsor Framework Democratic Scrutiny Committee that it’s a make or break moment for dental services in Northern Ireland. There’s a chance for officials to roll out an already crash tested model of reform from Scotland. Or to continue sitting by the sidelines, as the service sinks.

The numbers couldn’t be any clearer. 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, with 49% saying they are likely to go fully private.

The reasons why are obvious. Almost every respondent stressed that costs to provide health service care have increased and are putting the service at risk. And less than 1 in 10 believe the Department of Health has acted to adequately mitigate these costs.

The amalgam ban makes for a perfect storm. Without the Stormont Brake being applied, the ban expected from 1 January 2025 could force over 88% of practices to pare down or end their NHS work if mitigations aren’t in place.

It’s stark message we took to Stormont and to every media outlet in NI.

The path ahead is uncertain. What is clear though, is the current contract is failing practices and patients across NI. Urgent action is needed here to avoid, as Ciara Gallagher warned, the “final blow” for NI dentists.

“Dentists have told us they are working in what feels like the final days of this service,” said Ciara.  “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,” she added. “If it doesn’t, this service will die.”

It’s been a hard message for us to deliver, but it’s cut through. 

“The British Dental Association’s warning should be heeded” said the BelTel.

The same tone has been struck by commentators across print and broadcast media.

It’s a matter of simple maths "White fillings take longer to place than amalgam fillings," Ciara told the committee.

"If I am placing a large silver amalgam filling, it takes me three times as long to place a large white filling. What you are doing is trebling your treatment time.

"If you are trebling your treatment time, you are reducing your capacity and you can't see as many patients."

We have momentum here, and we are resolved to press this message forward.

No health professional should be expected to deliver NHS care at a loss. And we need urgent action to prevent the wholesale collapse of services across NI.

Our thanks to every member who provided us with evidence. Officials in Stormont need only pick the phone to their opposite numbers in Holyrood to get started.

NHS dentistry in NI could begin the journey towards sustainability tomorrow. If the restored Stormont Government chose to.