The British Dental Association Northern Ireland (BDA NI) has urged all candidates contesting the coming Northern Ireland Assembly elections to pledge their commitment to rebuild and reform a dental service that faces a deeply uncertain future as it emerges from the pandemic. With practices facing a massive hike in costs to deliver health service dentistry following Covid-19, dentists are worried about the future of NHS dentistry and the patients who depend on this service. They say that without additional support to address the rising cost of care, in parallel with work on a new contract, health service dentistry will simply not be financially viable.
The BDA says urgent action on funding is needed. Dental earnings have reduced by 40% in real terms since 2008, with committed health service dentists now earning the least. With morale among the profession at a historic low, half of all dentists are now stating their intention to move towards more private work. Over two-thirds of health service dental practices reported at least one unfilled dentist vacancy last year.
A total of 40% of practices say reluctance to work in health service dentistry is the key difficulty in recruiting. The BDA NI is calling on all political parties to set out a concrete plan to shore up health service dentistry. It calls for the restoration of a scheme that recognised and rewarded commitment to the NHS. It has also stressed the need for sweeping action to tackle rampant oral health inequalities in Northern Ireland. Roz McMullan, Chair of the BDA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: “Short-term financial support saved health service dentistry from collapse during the pandemic, but the next Assembly must deliver real change if we’re going to avert a crisis”.