BDA Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to provide real clarity and detail on its Oral Health Improvement Plan (OHIP), as new survey evidence revealed deep concerns among dentists, with profound uncertainty over implementation and the absence of any new investment.
- Nearly two thirds of NHS dentists (62%) who responded to a BDA survey had a 'negative' or 'very negative' impression of the Plan and around 65% had a 'negative' or 'very negative' outlook for the future.
- Over three quarters (76%) had concerns about financial viability, and how the Plan will be funded.
- A plan light on detail regarding milestones left almost two thirds (65%) with concerns about the timescales for the various initiatives.
- Almost 70% of respondents viewed the proposals to reduce the frequency of dental checks negatively, and over 80% had concerns about the proposed reduction in scale and polish treatments.
Feedback from dentists has questioned how meaningful reform is possible without extra government funding, with the plan raising new fears over the financial sustainability of high street NHS practice.
Morale among the dental profession is at an all-time low. Dentists have faced a 30% fall in real incomes since the financial crash, a drop without precedent in the UK public sector. Recruitment and retention problems are now endemic, with recent surveys indicating that over half (53%) of young and newly qualified dentists plan on leaving the service in next 5 years.
BDA Scotland has long advocated the principles at the heart of the plan, including a focus on prevention, the move to tackle oral health inequalities and addressing the care of the elderly. However dentist leaders have warned that the lack of detail in the plan - on vital issues including funding and timescales - and lack of involvement from the profession in implementation, could put NHS services at risk.
BDA Scottish Council Chair Robert Donald said: "Talk from government on prevention and tackling health inequalities is long overdue, but will remain warm words until they are backed up with needed investment.
"Vulnerable older patients deserve oral health care tailored to their needs, but this plan fails to spell out how it can be provided safely and effectively, or how it will be paid for. Sadly while officials have sketched out the big issues, they have skimped on the detail.
"This service has been hammered by years of austerity, flat lining morale and political indifference. NHS dentists have lead the calls for a plan, but now aspirations must be matched with real commitment from Ministers, and a willingness to involve practitioners in the process.
"NHS dentistry in Scotland is running on empty, and faces an uncertain future. If reform stands a chance it has to be done with and not to frontline health professionals."