By Bill Heaney

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie has hit out at the SNP government in support of the British Dental Association Scotland who have been told NHS practices throughout the country will have to return to pre COVID models of work.

“These measures will devastate dental services across the country,” Ms Baillie told The Democrat.

The Scottish Labour deputy leader and health spokesperson said: ““This is a damning indictment of the SNP government’s lack of support for our hard-pressed NHS dentists.

“NHS dental services remain under incredible strain, with both dentists and patients being forced into the arms of the private sector.

“For the government to remove support before practices are back on their feet is dangerous and damaging.

“Humza Yousaf must think twice and heed the calls of our hard-pressed NHS dentists.”

Labour leaders Jackie Baillie and Anas Sarwar, who is himself a dentist.

Labour should know what they are talking about since Anas Sarwar, who leads the Scottish party, is himself a dentist.

Cabinet Secretary Humza Yousaf has written today to every NHS dental team in Scotland, indicating that all emergency support will be withdrawn by 1 April 2022.

Since the first lockdown NHS practices have operated under a COVID support package, reflecting pandemic pressures and tight restrictions that continue to limit capacity across the service. 

A return to delivering a low margin/high volume model of care is, BDA Scotland contends, simply unsustainable under current conditions.

While some restrictions may ease in the coming months, there are no indications the service is likely to return to anything resembling ‘business as usual’.

With a growing number of staff facing abuse from frustrated patients unable to secure appointments, the BDA has warned the move will only raise patient expectations, while pushing NHS colleagues into the private sector or out of dentistry altogether.

Yousaf, pictured right,  has signalled minor changes to the payment system for dentists that will take effect from 1 February 2022, largely covering the treatment of children. While welcome, these reforms will have a negligible impact on capacity within the service and will not ease the pressure on practice finances once the COVID support payments are withdrawn.

The SNP committed to delivering free NHS care for all in Scotland in the recent election.

But, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The Health Secretary has once again dropped the ball on handling the dentistry profession.

“In 2019 I revealed patients were waiting up to 243 weeks for dental treatment and called on the Health Secretary to take urgent action to get services back on track. Since then the challenges faced by dentists have only got greater.

“Instead of listening to the recommendations of those dentists who have been working through the pandemic, the Health Secretary gave them inadequate solutions, that will see dentists and patients alike suffer. 

“We are still in a pandemic and there is a real risk that removing support lead more practitioners to leave the NHS.

“Meanwhile patients will be forced to go private or if they can’t afford to do so, might postpone their visit, and potentially suffer long term damage.

“Liberal Democrats were instrumental in introducing free dental checks in Scotland and in pressing for a new dental school to address the shortage of dentists, particularly in remote and rural areas of Scotland.

“As a result, we’ve made progress as a country. That is all being undone by the SNP. Scottish Liberal Democrats will stand up for NHS staff and patients and hold the government accountable for their decisions.”

The BDA has stressed the SNP approach runs counter to that vision, and that real focus and energy must be applied to developing a new, sustainable model for delivering care.

David McColl, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee said:  “The Scottish Government seems set to pull the rug out from under every dedicated NHS dentist.

“If Ministers had an objective to decimate NHS dentistry, this approach would offer a great starting point. To signal the return of a ‘business as usual’ model when the country is still in the grip of a pandemic is utterly reckless. The net result will be to push colleagues out of the NHS and to leave this profession altogether.

“Ministers put NHS dentistry front and centre in their pitch for government. To deliver on their promises we need real commitment to find a new and better way for delivering for the patients that need us.”

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