NI’s sugar tax is a ‘wasted windfall’

Northern Ireland should follow the lead of pioneering programmes in Wales and Scotland, says the BDA

With the Soft Drinks Industry Levy facing an uncertain future, the British Dental Association Northern Ireland has urged Stormont authorities to “get a grip” and use the windfall to improve children’s health.

The BDA has previously highlighted that, owing to a lack of functioning government, the £12.3m raised from the levy has “disappeared into a black hole”. Devolved governments were given full discretion on where to spend the proceeds. However, the Northern Ireland Department of Finance has confirmed that “the 2018-19 funding was not ring-fenced for any particular purpose”.

The BDA has called for Northern Ireland – which has worst decay rates in the UK – to invest in children’s oral health. It should, says the organisation, follow pioneering programmes from devolved governments in Wales and Scotland which have shaved millions off treatment costs through dedicated early years oral health programmes.

Seventy-two per cent of 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland have tooth decay compared with 44% in England, and 63% in Wales. Northern Ireland hospitals face a bill of more than £9.3m a year for paediatric tooth extractions.

“The current debate on the future of the sugar tax is a red herring in Northern Ireland,” said Caroline Lappin, BDA NI Council Chair. “Not a penny of this windfall has been spent in the spirit that was intended. Funds that should have been invested in improving children’s health have been spent helping Stormont accountants get their books to balance. 

“A fraction of these proceeds could have transformed the oral health of the children who currently top the UK league table for tooth decay. All dentists would mourn the passing of the sugar levy. But the sad truth is – when it comes to actually helping the young in Northern Ireland – it has never really existed.

“Our children’s oral health is too important to be allowed to drift along any longer; that is why it will be a key theme at a forthcoming BDA Oral Health Matters summit to take place at Stormont in the autumn”.

Tristen Kelso, the BDA’s Northern Ireland Director, added: “This summit
is designed to not just to highlight the work we need to do, but to start to come up with a new, more ambitious, vision for oral health in Northern Ireland – with full support from a wide range of key stakeholders.

“Northern Ireland faces incredible challenges when it comes to oral health and tackling these challenges requires vision, ambition and investment – from both Stormont and Westminster. Oral health, and especially children’s oral health, needs to be a stated priority of the Department of Health, and resourced accordingly.”

A vision for oral health in Northern Ireland, read the article.

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Published: 9 September, 2019 at 07:14