New measure of oral health in development

Scotland develops new oral health measure to track patient trends and support investment in NHS dentistry

27 June, 2024 / infocus
 Scottish Dental  

A new measure of oral health is being developed that would provide practices in Scotland with a ‘snapshot’ of their patient cohort.

As well as helping practices detect trends in the oral health of their patients, anonymised data could then be aggregated to health board level, and to a national level, allowing policymakers to measure the impact of reforms and to monitor oral health trends regionally and nationally.

The new measure was among several initiatives discussed by Tom Ferris, the Chief Dental Officer (CDO), at the Scottish Dental Show this year where he provided an update on the reforms to NHS dentistry in Scotland that were introduced last November.

The CDO said that although the reforms had included significantly reducing the number of items of service, that longstanding model of payment had some fundamentally important strengths. It provided transparency and accountability, he said, meaning that for every pound spent there was a tangible return in patient care.

He added that having that data also allowed his team to make the case for increased investment, because it was possible to calculate and map dental care activity and demonstrate this to ministers. The new measure of oral health would provide a yet more detailed picture of the impact of reform and support the case for increased investment in NHS dentistry.

The CDO said that other areas of work included governance and the workforce. On workforce, and the UK Government’s proposal to enable overseas-qualified dentists to work in the UK more quickly,
it would be “important to understand what it means and how it will work, and that NHS Scotland will have its own rules after someone has been given provisional registration.”

He said that his team was also looking at whether the model of training dental hygienists and therapists that has been established by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) could be replicated in other locations.

On governance, he said that patterns of working had undergone a significant shift. “So, we need to understand what that relationship is going to be going forward,” he said, “and how can boards and practices offer those portfolio careers so that we don’t lose people from NHS dentistry.”

The CDO said that the combined practice inspection, a process introduced for all NHS general dental practices in Scotland in 2014, needed to be reviewed. “It’s a bit like the ‘practice police’. It’s kind of into drawers and looking at documents. Surely there must be a better way of doing this. Surely it should be about improvement and not about policing and sanction.”

He said that since the reforms were introduced it had been “kind of quiet. I’m taking that as a positive …
it seems to be working. If it wasn’t, I think the noise from the sector would be deafening.”

But he added: “We really need some time for the sector to get to equilibrium, for practices to really understand it, to get into the new system, and then have a few quarters of data to look at patterns, look at variation in treatment patterns, and then work out whether or not we need to do something about
and, at that point, we’ll be coming back out to have conversations with people.”

Tags: Health / Investment / Measure / oral / scotland / Statistics

Categories: News

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