The SNP’s plan to scrap charges for NHS dentistry could mean cuts to services and may see more patients forced to turn to the private sector for treatment, Anas Sarwar has warned.
The Scottish Labour leader, who worked as an NHS dentist in Paisley before entering politics, said he supported the principle of free care but was concerned at a lack of detail announced by Nicola Sturgeon.
A pledge to scrap dentistry charges, expected to cost £100 million a year initially, was one of a series of expensive giveaways included in the SNP manifesto last week.
Mr Sarwar warned the policy could prove counterproductive if it was not implemented properly, and said the nationalists had a track record of failing to properly fund services.
“The devil is in the detail,” said the Glasgow MSP. “What risks happening is, and this has happened too many times under this government already, is you reduce the number of treatments that are available on the NHS, meaning you're pushing more people to getting private treatments.
"I think we need to see the detail of what this policy means in practice before we can make a wider comment on whether it is fit for purpose or not.
“In principle, of course I agree that health care should be free at the point of need, but if that's coming at the cost of pushing more and more patients to private treatments, because you're reducing the number of treatments that are available on the NHS, that is counterproductive.”
There are already exemptions in place to ensure that those on the lowest incomes do not have to pay for dental treatment on the NHS.
In a normal year, around £75 million is charged for NHS work in Scotland, although the cost of the policy would be expected to rise initially to £100 million as it would likely lead to a surge in demand.
Ms Sturgeon has said free treatment would initially be offered to young people who had been in care, with free treatment to be rolled out universally by the end of the parliament.
She said: “We will engage with the British Dental Association and others to help shape a reformed funding arrangement to make their services sustainable for the long-term.”