McArthur highlights the island dimension to the crisis in NHS dentistry

21 Feb 2024
Liam McArthur speaking in the chamber on dentistry

Speaking in a debate on dentistry led by the Scottish Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament today, Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur highlighted the specific challenges around recruitment and retention in rural and island areas.

Mr McArthur drew attention to worrying statistics about local access to dentistry, including:

  1. Orkney having the second-lowest registration rate for adult patients in the country.
  2. Even among those adults who are registered, the participation rate – contact with a dentist in the previous two years – was the second-lowest in the country.
  3. Children’s participation rates plummeted by over a third from 87% in 2020 to 57% in 2022.

All of this comes against the backdrop of an alarming shift away from NHS dentistry towards the private sector, something that Mr McArthur said reflected what he has been seeing in his ‘mailbag’ over recent years.

Orkney’s MSP called for a funding model that better reflects the needs of rural and island areas as well as more clarity on financial allowances to improve recruitment and retention of NHS dentists. A replacement for the Remote and Rural Fellowship scheme, which helped enable orthodontic services to be provided in the past, is also needed urgently needed.

Commenting after the debate, Mr McArthur said:

"I see from my mailbag week after week the impact the crisis in NHS dentistry is having on constituents of all ages. From those unable to get registered, to registered patients experiencing lengthy waits for appointments or having to go private, the current situation is having serious consequences, despite the best efforts of local dentists and staff. The continued lack of orthodontic provision at all is also creating real problems, particularly for younger people.

“The current funding model doesn’t help, as it is often based on low margins and high volumes. This simply fails to recognise the circumstances in rural and island areas, like Orkney, and needs to be put on a more sustainable footing.

“Recruitment and retention is also a real challenge. While addressing this will not be easy, targeted financial allowances have been effective in the past and have a part to play, but Ministers must provide more clarity about the support being made available.

“Meanwhile, the loss of the Remote and Rural Fellowship scheme is being keenly felt. Local dentists have made good use of the scheme in the past, which even allowed for an orthodontic service to be available up until 2021. If this is not to be resurrected, a similar incentive scheme must be developed to replace it.

“It is certainly the case that NHS dentistry is in crisis across the country, but island and rural practices face additional challenges. This will not come as a surprise to the new Health Secretary, Neil Gray, but he and his ministerial team must now ensure any recovery plan takes account of the specific needs of dentists and patients in the islands.”

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