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Scotland: Making our case to the Scottish Parliament

24 September 2021

 

This week the Scottish Parliament’s Health, Social Care, and Sport Committee invited witnesses representing NHS stakeholders to provide evidence to help shape their agenda for the next five years.

 

The aim of the Committee is to scrutinise the work of the Scottish Government and make policy recommendations for the improvement of public health. GDP Donald Morrison from BDA Scotland gave evidence on behalf of the dental profession and outlined the challenges facing dentists and patients in Scotland. He explained that NHS dental services in Scotland were “broken” and “not fit for purpose”, as he appealed to the Committee to include dentistry and oral health in their programme of work.

 

There are few parts of our health service that have been hit as badly by the pandemic as dentistry. Donald explained that over four million appointments have been lost in Scotland since March 2020 and this colossal backlog only continues to grow.

 

NHS dental services are facing a double whammy of increased demand while supply of dentistry remains limited for the foreseeable future. This is because the disruption to ongoing care, the suspension of public health programmes such as ChildSmile, and changes in lifestyle and dietary habits during lockdown are likely to significantly increase the need for dental treatment.

 

Dental teams are doing all they can, but patients are getting increasingly frustrated and angry about the lack of access to dental care which adds to the stress and pressure on already hard-pressed staff. Donald called for meaningful and timely communication from the Government, both in terms of speaking to the profession and explaining to the general public that we’re still far from “business as usual”.

The Scottish Government has pledged to rollout free NHS dental care across Scotland in the lifetime of this Parliament, but they have yet to detail whether the appropriate human and financial resources will be put in place to meet the likely increase in demand. Donald stressed that dentists found out about the roll-out of free dentistry to 18-25-year-olds with just a day’s notice, and called on the Government to improve their engagement with the profession going forward.

 

The huge backlog across primary and secondary dental care will also have a knock-on effect on oral health inequalities as well as early detection and survival rates of oral cancer.

 

Donald stressed that dentistry and oral health were all too often overlooked in broader debates about health and the NHS, saying colleagues often felt “like the Cinderella service”. This is despite the huge impact oral health has on wider health outcomes and life chances, and the important role we play not just in treating teeth and gums, but also preventing poor health more widely and early diagnosis of conditions such as oral cancer. “We work really hard for our patients and do all we can, but ultimately the perfect storm of there not being enough of sustainable future funding, and a model that we can work to means we will lose dentists from the NHS hand over fist in the future” he warned.

 

Following Donald’s oral evidence, we have also submitted a written case for dentistry to be included as one of the Committee’s priorities in this session of Parliament. We continue to work with MSPs and the Scottish Government to shine a light on and seek solutions to the problems facing our members and their patients, and push for progress on the five-point plan set out in our recent manifesto.