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‘Toxic, demoralising and stressful’: Tayside NHS dentists speak out on crisis

A dentist at work
A dentist at work

Tayside dentists have spoken out about patient backlogs and pressures of NHS dentistry.

A survey by dental organisation MDDUS reveals half of Scottish dentists are struggling to clear a backlog of patients, caused by the pandemic.

Tayside dentists Dr Rami Sarraf and Dr Robbie Parr revealed they’re not surprised by the findings, and gave us an insight into the pressures they face.

However, the Scottish Government said there’s been a sharp increase in appointments as restrictions have eased.

dental covid tayside
Revised arrangements with dentists have been announced.

MDDUS surveyed about 2000 of its members for the results.

What did the survey of dentists say?

It found 50% of Scottish dentists are struggling to clear the backlog of patients caused by the pandemic.

And four out of five dentists say the backlog has led to delays in treatment and complaints from patients.

Tayside dentists speak out about NHS dentistry.

MDDUS says dentists tell them they’re considering taking on less NHS patients, exiting the profession and that NHS contracts need reform.

What do Tayside dentists say?

Dr Rami Sarraf is owner and clinical director at First Alba Healthcare, with practices in Dundee, Forfar, Kinross and Newburgh.

He says: “It is obvious NHS dentists have been under pressure for some time now.

“That’s due primarily to the fact that the Statement of Dental Renumeration is completely inadequate.” (SDR is the system dentists use to claim payment for NHS patients’ treatment, from the government.)

“It’s based on the treatments and practices of the 1970s and 80s.”

Tayside dentist Rami Sarraf, pictured with his dental team, says focus needs to be on prevention.

The amount dentists can claim is linked to the type of treatment or procedure carried out.

But some dentists say the SDR is too focussed on older, remedial treatment.

They believe it should reflect modern methods of dentistry, including educating patients on how they can help prevent problems in the future like gum disease.

“More than 50% of all Scottish adults now have varying degrees of gum disease,” says Dr Sarraf.

“Unless this is treated, they are inevitably going to suffer tooth loss.

“I’m shocked the Scottish Government has done so little to address it.”

‘NHS appointments harder to access’

Tayside dentist Dr Robbie Parr says promised consultation from the government hasn’t happened yet.

“Every dental practitioner wants a fair and effective healthcare system that benefits both patients and team members,” Dr Parr explains.

“But the inadequacy of the current system for dentists still offering an NHS service has resulted in NHS dentistry becoming a toxic, stressful and demoralising area to work in for every member of the dental team.

Dentist at work

“Because of this, many are simply leaving the NHS,” he continues.

“Of those left, many are reducing their commitment which means NHS appointments are becoming increasingly difficult for patients to access.

“Unless the system changes, and there is major reform, the situation will only get worse.”

What does the government say?

Easing of restrictions, put in place at the height of the pandemic, has meant thousands more patients being seen, the Scottish Government says.

NHS examinations are expected to have doubled between April and June, compared with the first three months of 2022.

And they expect about 700,000 examinations to have taken place as practices continue to recover – almost double the number in the first three months of the year.

Humza Yousaf MSP.

Writing to dentists this week, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf confirms NHS dentists will continue to get an additional 30% on fee claims, with a further review by October.

He writes: “We have previously intimated as the recovery programme develops and patient access to services expands, we would turn to the issue of reform.

“We are very much aware there is a strong appetite from the sector for a reform programme.

“We want to meet that expectation with a programme that is focused and inclusive.”

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