06 Oct Jon Cartu Said: West Dunbartonshire dental care in danger from Covid
LOCAL dentists fear West Dunbartonshire patients could be forced to pay more for treatment due to Covid-19 funding cuts.
Since some lockdown restrictions on dental treatment have been lifted, practices across West Dunbartonshire are continuing to operate at low capacity, with most practices seeing less than a quarter of former patient numbers to meet infection control guidelines.
Scotland’s Chief Dental Officer has indicated a process will commence shortly that could lead to changes to funding model NHS dental services are based on, with the current ‘item of service’ system where dentists are paid for delivering individual treatments , criticised for being overly cumbersome for dentists to use, and confusing for patients.
The new process will be a long term-initiative requiring a national consultation in spring 2021, followed by likely legislative changes, and could see the costs laid at the door of people in West Dunbartonshire with treatment prices going up.
Ghyll McCallum, principal dentist at Levengrove Dental Care, said: “I don’t think there’s any government that would like to be the one that has it on their agenda to pull the plug on NHS dentistry, but they may continue to restrict NHS dentistry.
“As far as dentists are concerned, I’ve heard of some practices in Edinburgh that are withdrawing from NHS care.
“I think we’re all worried, currently we’re staying afloat because of the support package we have but we’re only working with 20 per cent of what we have been normally doing, and the concern is what is the long term plan from the government?
“The funding we have received has not gone up over the years, but expenses have. If this (Covid-19) is used as another opportunity to reduce funding, then it could be a stranglehold.”
Back in June, the British Dental Association wrote in a letter to the Scottish Government about more the need for more funding local dental practices.
David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee told the Reporter: “The future of Scotland’s dental services still hangs in the balance. Dentists can only see a fraction of the patients they saw pre-Covid, and with the backlog of treatment it will take us at least 6 months to a year to catch up.
“Over six challenging months our teams have responded well but at considerable cost. Staff are stressed and anxious and facing information overload from all quarters what they need is definitive guidance and support.
“Meanwhile, we are inching towards a “two-tier” system, where many types of routine care remain unavailable on the NHS. This isn’t sustainable.
“The pandemic has shone a light on the broken model at the heart of NHS dentistry. It’s the right time for Ministers to look afresh and provide firm foundations and fair funding for services millions depend on.”
West Dunbartonshire MSP Jackie Baillie shared the concerns: “I am sorry to see that local dentist practices have not been immune to the financial worries and uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As part of the Scottish Government’s plan to rebuild and remobilise our NHS, it is vital that there is specific focus given to the future funding of dentistry. Dentists provide vital – and often emergency – services.
“Neither our dentists or patients should have to suffer hikes in fees because of underfunding and I will be using my position to argue for a fully funded and protected dental health service going forward.”