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First Minister insists dentists have not been overlooked as body accuses government of failing to talk to them

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Further warnings surrounding the health of Scotland’s NHS dental services have been aired by the country’s practitioners, amid fears hundreds of practices could go bankrupt because of coronavirus.

Despite hotels, pubs, hairdressers and hospitality businesses being able to open their doors for action on Wednesday, the country’s dentists are still unable to offer full “routine” work for patients.

Limitations to the amount of PPE each dentist has received, as well as a ban on aerosol tools like high-speed drills have left professionals fearful for their practices’ future.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the profession had not been “overlooked” during the crisis, but acknowledged it had been “very difficult for dentists” as the pandemic played out.

‘Scottish Government dictates terms’

Dr Mohammed Samad, who was trained at Dundee University and chairs the Scottish Dental Practice Owners’ Group (SDPO), warned the actions of the Scottish Government could put the future of NHS dental services at risk of disappearing.

He said: “Polling of our membership demonstrates that Scottish dental practice owners have no confidence that the established consultation arrangements between Scottish Government and our existing representative body (SDPC), are fair or effective.

Dentist at work.

“SDPC themselves have acknowledged on a number of occasions that they find the Scottish Government unwilling to negotiate, with the Scottish Government tending to simply dictate their terms.

“This behaviour by Scottish Government is long standing and has led to a gradual degradation and subjugation of both the profession and NHS dental services, over the last decade or more.

“For the reasons outlined above, our membership has no confidence the Scottish Government will engage with the profession to develop a framework for NHS dentistry beyond this pandemic, or the government will deliver reasonable terms for our members and most importantly, deliver accessible and high quality NHS dental care to the Scottish population.

“A further example of the government’s unwillingness to engage constructively with the profession is their failure to respond to our own letters.

“Our group now represents the vast majority of Scottish practice owners. We wish to engage with the government to develop a sustainable model for the future delivery of NHS dentistry in Scotland and we have sent multiple letters to both the first minister and the chief dental officer.

“We have received nothing more than an acknowledgement of receipt to these letters.

“We wonder whether the government realises if our members’ practices fail, or are forced to withdraw from providing NHS care, then potentially millions of Scots will lose access to NHS dental care.”

Talks ongoing

The government’s clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, insisted talks between dental professionals and the government are still taking place and support is available.

Professor Jason Leitch.

He said: “The chief dental officer has engaged with the British Dental Association’s (BDA) representative body — that’s the right thing for him to do, it is the representative body for dentists and has been for decades.

“The SDPO is new, they have a particular set of challenges that we accept and the chief dental officer is keen to hear from them and engage with the broad profession to try and find our way through some of these really challenging elements.

“Dentistry is particularly difficult in this routemap out of lockdown, because of the nature of what dentists do.

“They have really good experience in infection prevention control, we are confident enough, but there are over 1,000 practices that the chief dental officer has to have some oversight and responsibility for.

“He is working as fast as he can to get us to the next stage of the routemap, bearing in mind what the first minister said — it has been difficult.

“There has been financial support for many dentists across the country and that will continue and we will get to the next stage of the routemap as quick as we possibly can.”

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