Plans to abolish NHS dentistry charges ‘could be counter-productive’
Nicola Sturgeon has been warned that her plan to abolish NHS dentistry charges could lead to more patients taking up private treatment and may end up being “counter-productive”, The Herald reports.
The SNP manifesto published last week included a commitment to scrap charges in the next parliament if re-elected to power.
In response, the British Dental Association said it would work with a future SNP Government to rebuild services, but it cautioned that the party’s plans “must go hand in hand with needed investment if services millions depend on are going to remain sustainable”.
A spokesperson added: “We are of course ready to work with the SNP on these pledges, which could fundamentally change the way dentistry is delivered in Scotland, but we need to see detail. We need assurances that any loss of patient charge revenue would not lead to a reduction in overall funding for our service.”
Labour leader Anas Sarwar, himself a former NHS dentist, has issued a warning over the policy despite backing the principle of abolishing NHS dentistry charges.
He said: “I am happy to have a debate with any parliamentarian about NHS dentistry and the progress, or lack of it made in the last 10 years or more. What I would caution is let’s see the detail because the devil is in the detail.
“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 and reduce the number of treatment options you have on the NHS.
“You are pushing more people to getting private treatments rather than NHS treatments and then you will say, ‘okay, we will give NHS treatments free’. I think we need to see the detail of what this policy means in practice before we can make wider comment on whether it is fit for purpose or not.”
Sarwar added that while he backs the principle of healthcare being free at the point of use, the policy could be “counter-productive” and “actually gaming the system” if it means “pushing more and more patients to private treatments because you’re reducing the number of treatments available on the NHS”.
He added: “We have seen that already with orthodontics under this government, we’ve seen that already with some of the treatments that are available in upfront general dentistry rather than specialist dentistry.”
The Scottish Labour leader also urged caution over the possibility that the renumeration package for individual dentists could mean that “NHS dentists don’t then offer those treatments”, adding that “patients are forced to go private”.
He added: “We saw that happen during the pandemic when more and more patients were pushed towards private dentistry because NHS dentistry was not sustainable through the pandemic because of what the fee per item was and the amount of time they were having to spend around considerations around infection control and PPE and how many patients they could actually see in one day.
“I will reserve judgement until I see detail but if their record is anything to go by, I think the devil will be in that detail.”
The SNP said its policy, which would begin with services for care experienced young people, will cost around £75 million and is estimated to increase to £100 million due to the expected additional uptake once costs are removed.