Dentist body warns dental services in Wales will 'wither on the vine' without more support

The body that represents dentists in Wales has said more needs to be done to help staff and patients Credit: PA Images

The British Dental Association Wales has welcomed calls from the Welsh Conservatives for a fair funding settlement for NHS dentistry.

Dentists have been seeking a long-term solution to address a funding gap in the service, with the BDA saying Wales has suffered from historic underfunding relative to other UK devolved nations.

Government spend on NHS dentistry in Wales was £47 per head prior to the pandemic, compared to £55 in Scotland and £56 in Northern Ireland.    

The British Dental Association Wales says dentists here have suffered 'historic underfunding compared to other nations in the UK. Credit: PA

While the Welsh Government has offered £3 million in time-limited funds late in the financial year to provide additional appointments, few practices have been able to make use of the scheme given the huge demands already placed on an overstretched workforce, and the need to fulfil existing contractual commitments.

The BDA warn additional offers of £2 million in recurrent funding risk following the same pattern, particularly given limits on staffing capacity.

Practices are struggling to recruit and the NHS has lost 8% of its dentists in the last two years.    

Dr Russell Gidney, Chair of the British Dental Association's Welsh General Dental Practice Committee, said: "Dentists are working to a system designed to cap patient numbers, with budgets that have failed to keep pace with both rising prices and demand. 

"This service needs more than a sticking plaster. Offers of additional funding with extra demands will simply stretch an exhausted workforce to breaking point. 

Dr Russell Gidney is a GDP and Chair of the BDAs Welsh General Dental Practice Committee. Credit: ITV Wales

"For over a decade dentists have been forced to do more with less - often at the expense of their own well-being.

"Covid needs to mark a turning point. If the Welsh Government fails to support NHS dentistry now the service looks set to wither on the vine."

He continued, "Dentists give a lot to the profession they work in.

"We are trying to do the best that we can for the practices and we don't like being in this push pull situation where we're having to give some sort of compromise and unless we're allowed to work in the manner that we want to, it puts dentists at odds with the patients that they're trying to provide care for.

"We can't professionally, we can't morally, we can't ethically give a sub-standard service to those patients, we want to be allowed to do what we're trained to do."

Since 2006 the service has operated to a capped budget, capable of providing care to barely half the population according to the BDA.

The union stresses that offering funding for additional appointments will remain fruitless without confronting the mounting costs of providing care, and the failure of budgets to keep pace with inflation over the last decade.  

In response, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: "We have provided an extra £3m this year alone for NHS dental services, and an extra £2m a year, each year, to increase people's access to NHS dental services after a difficult two years."