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SNP cuts dentist check ups to once every two years

Sandesh Gulhane said it should be up to dentists to decide how often patients are seen
Sandesh Gulhane said it should be up to dentists to decide how often patients are seen - Getty/Ken Jack

The SNP has officially scrapped twice-yearly dental check-ups with patients to instead be seen as little as once every two years.

In sweeping reforms designed to cope with a spiralling backlog, Scottish dentists have been told that they will only receive funding to carry out routine examinations at most once every 12 months, for adults and children.

It adds that dentists will be allowed to use “clinical discretion” to recommend longer intervals, of 18 or even 24 months, between appointments.

Traditionally, practices have invited patients for check-ups once every six months, which were funded by the health service.

However, the decades-old practice will be scrapped from Nov 1.

Sources within the sector said the move had come in a bid to bring an end to “dental deserts” in which practices refuse to take on new NHS patients.

It is claimed that by seeing patients less frequently, this will free up space for dentists to take on more people.

Patients were traditionally invited for a check-up once every six months
Patients were traditionally invited for a check-up once every six months - Moment RF

While some studies have suggested that traditional twice-yearly exams are not necessary for all patients, dentists have been expecting a public information campaign to inform patients of the changes, which is yet to materialise.

Sandesh Gulhane, health spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said it should be up to dentists, and not the Government, to decide how often patients are seen.

“Humza Yousaf and the SNP have been asleep at the wheel as NHS dentistry in Scotland has been pushed beyond breaking point,” he said.

“The industry is on a cliff-edge following the devastating effects of the pandemic and it is suffering patients who are set to pay the price.

“Humza Yousaf’s failure to agree a funding model with dentists to preserve NHS provision has been hugely damaging, especially for patients in rural Scotland and those in deprived communities.

“Michael Matheson [the SNP health secretary] must urgently explain if regular dental check-ups have been consigned to history for NHS patients.”

Humza Yousaf has been accused of failing dentistry by not agreeing a funding model
Humza Yousaf has been accused of failing dentistry by not agreeing a funding model - PA

Reforms to how dentists are paid for NHS services were announced by the SNP Government in the summer.

It claimed the overhaul would offer “longer-term sustainability to the sector” and ensure they continued to offer NHS care.

It admitted that some NHS patients who are not eligible for free treatment would likely see an increase in costs, breaking a manifesto commitment in which the SNP claimed it would abolish all NHS dental charges by 2026.

However, changes to the frequency of examinations were not detailed in the announcement. Information provided to health boards state that “an extensive clinical examination can be provided to adult and child patients once per year”.

Patients will be able to have a dental “review” more often, though this is intended only if there is a clinical reason, such as for those with lesions which could indicate possible mouth cancer or gum disease.

‘Patients drop in pandemic’

The number of patients seeing a dentist has plummeted since the pandemic, when many treatments were banned on public health grounds.

As of September last year, only half of Scots had seen an NHS dentist within the previous two years, compared to almost seven in ten before the pandemic.

Two thirds of children had been seen within two years, compared to 85 per cent before Covid.

Those in the poorest communities were the least likely to have been to a dentist, with just 55 per cent of children seeing one within the previous two years, compared to 75.8 per cent in the richest.

Earlier this year it emerged that no dentists were taking on NHS patients in the whole of Dumfries and Galloway.

Some practices in the area opted out of NHS care, leaving around 23,000 people with no cover.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “No one will have reduced access to dental examinations if they need them. These changes allow dentists to be flexible and responsive to their patients’ oral health needs and follow best practice guidelines set by Nice.

“Every patient, children and adults, can receive a yearly extensive clinical review but for those who may need to be seen more frequently a new review examination has been introduced which can be provided as often as clinically necessary.

“The new determination, based on clinical best practice, enables dentists to use their clinical discretion so they can provide the best care possible to patients.”