NI dentistry on the brink

Stormont authorities should follow Scottish Government’s lead, says BDA

Dentistry in Northern Ireland “remains on the brink”, according to the British Dental Association (BDA).

The latest Family Practitioner Services Dental Statistics1, published in June, show that just 821,835 patients were treated in the year 2023 to 2024 – 79% of the pre-COVID norm and only a 2% increase
on last year. The number of claims made by dentists for treatment delivered are 70% of 2019-20 levels, an increase of only 5% on 2022-23.

Registration numbers fell by 1,825 for children and 43,008 for adults, reflecting the growing number of practices moving away from the NHS. The year also saw total fees paid to dentists drop by £10.4m compared with 2022-23.

The BDA said an “unsustainable funding model is standing in the way of a recovery”. It said that the “low or no margin/high volume” model dentists work to can leave practices delivering health service treatment at a loss, as budgets have failed to keep pace with soaring costs.

An additional investment of £9.2m pledged by the Department of Health in March was not new money and is based on repurposing underspend anticipated for the 2024-25 year in the existing budget, said the BDA.

Dentist leaders have repeatedly stated that Stormont authorities need to follow the lead of the Scottish Government which, following negotiations with the BDA, rolled out sweeping changes to its payment system late last year, recalibrating fees to help stabilise the service.

Analysis of the statistics follows warnings from the BDA at the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Health Committee that an “exodus” of dentists away from Health Service dentistry is in motion.

Ciara Gallagher, chair of the BDA’s Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee, said: “Health Service dentistry in Northern Ireland remains a shadow of its former self. The need for care is as high as ever and we remain at the bottom UK league table for oral health.

“The clock is ticking, and dedicated practices are already walking away. Urgent action is needed from Stormont. The lessons from Scotland could save Health Service dentistry. Without fair funding, this service will cease to exist.”

  1. Family Practitioner Services Dental Statistics for NI 2023-24,

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Published: 6 July, 2024 at 08:05