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Investing in oral health: Northern Ireland's lost sugar tax windfall

Blog Author Roz McMullan

Blog Date 19/12/2018


Without a functioning government the £12.3 million raised from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy has disappeared into a black hole.

This was money that should have been ploughed into prevention and children’s health. Devolved governments were given full discretion on where to spend the proceeds, and we were adamant that Northern Ireland – with the worst decay rates in the UK – needed to ensure oral health was part of the picture. 

This matters. The £600m NHS ‘birthday present’ offered to Northern Ireland this year also has ‘no strings attached’. And now all health professionals will need assurances that money earmarked for safeguarding the future of the NHS will actually be spent for that purpose. 

So we’ve written an open letter to Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary, Department of Health, seeking assurances that any new spending will actually go to support frontline and preventive services.

This money needs to be put to work on prevention. 

Northern Ireland needs a wholesale upgrade to its oral health strategy. The current plan is a museum piece, a decade old, with day to day decisions based on obsolete data from 2003.

While devolved governments in Wales and Scotland have delivered real innovation and investment, Northern Ireland is still failing to deliver a preventive focus or even acknowledge the fact our kids still have the worst decay rates in the UK.

Seventy-two per cent of 15 year-olds in Northern Ireland have tooth decay compared to 44% in England, and 63% in Wales.

And our hospitals face a bill of more than £9.3 million a year for paediatric tooth extractions. 

This sugar levy windfall was meant to fight obesity, but instead it seems proceeds are simply helping Stormont accountants balance the books.

Officials must not make the same mistake with the NHS70 investment.

Sadly, paralysis at Stormont is shutting down strategic thinking and fresh investment across our health service.

We top the UK league table for oral disease, yet there are no plans to upgrade our antique oral health strategy, or even extend lifesaving HPV vaccinations to protect boys from oral cancer.

The 70th birthday gift needs to provide a real legacy.

Tooth decay remains the number one reason for child hospital admission, and investing in prevention could save our Health Service millions.

Roz McMullan, Chair Northern Ireland Council and BDA President-elect


BDA Northern Ireland

BDA Northern Ireland supports, represents and promotes, the interests of all dentists working in Northern Ireland. Working with elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, pay and contracts. Join us.