The Scottish government will offer NHS dental practices a ‘bridging’ payment in a last-minute decision to extend financial aid.
But dentists stress that financial support is not enough to save NHS dentistry and urgent reform is required.
The current ‘multiplier’ payment, set at a rate of 1.3, is due to expire at the end of September. The cabinet secretary informed the British Dental Association (BDA) that after this date, the government planned to halt financial aid. They saw the dental sector slowly recover from the aftermath of the pandemic, which was the goal of the support.
However, with the cost of living crisis and costs of business skyrocketing, they’ve made a last-minute decision to continue funding.
The bridging payment will pay NHS dentists a multiplier of 1.2 for the first three months of the recovery period (October– December), and a rate of 1.1 for the last three months up to April 2023.
At its current rate of 1.3, many NHS dentists are still making a financial loss on treatments such as extractions and dentures, which require laboratory work. The dental sector has been urging the government to continue offering adequate funding and help NHS dentistry in Scotland recover.
Now that the funding package is set at an even lower rate of 1.2, and 1.1 after three months, the BDA stresses that NHS dentistry cannot return to normal in April 2023.
It argues that without any real reform, no amount of temporary financial support will fix the imbalanced supply and demand issues that NHS dentistry is currently facing.
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Not ‘business as usual’
A recent study conducted by the BBC indicated that nine out of 10 practices in the UK were unable to take on new adult patients. In Scotland, this number was 82%, and the multiplier was likely a factor in the statistics.
David McColl, chair of the BDA’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, commented on the state of the dental sector.
‘The Scottish government seems to have recognised the wholesale inadequacy of the funding model for NHS dentistry,’ he said.
‘It’s not rocket science. Without additional support, the basics of NHS care – from extractions to dentures – would have been delivered at a loss. No business can operate on that basis.
‘We now need some serious long-term thinking. Unless ministers are prepared to revisit the system this service is built on, this funding will amount to sticking plaster on a gaping wound.
‘If this is just delaying the return to a broken “business as usual”, then millions of patients stand to lose out.’
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