Dentists’ body slams service cuts as ‘reckless’

Child being examined by dentist
Child being examined by dentist

Tooth decay levels among children in Northern Ireland make proposals to cut £70 million from the health budget appear “reckless,” the British Dental Association (BDA) has said.

Roslyn McMullan, chair of the BDA’s Northern Ireland Council, was commenting after the Province’s five health trusts on Thursday published plans to meet new expenditure targets by March 2018.

“When tooth extractions are the leading cause of our children getting general anaesthetic cutting front line services smacks of recklessness. This service is already running on empty, and taking further resources out will only place greater strain on our GPs, hospitals and A&E units.

“Northern Ireland has the worst oral health inequalities in the UK, and the authorities need to stop seeking false economies. They cannot continue abdicating their responsibility to curb decay in young people, or to engage with the growing challenges of an ageing population.”

The trusts have been instructed by Stormont’s Department of Health to collectively save £70m to ensure the books balance at the end of the financial year.

They are set to reduce reliance on agency staff and locum doctors, while the number of hospital beds available are also due to be cut in some trust areas. The level of domiciliary care provided, such as home visits, will also be reduced under the plans, with limits also put on new residential care places.

The Belfast Trust aims to contribute £23.6m of the required £70m savings, while the Northern Trust is hoping to save £13m. The Western Trust’s share of the overall saving is £12.5m, the South Eastern’s £10.85m and the Southern Trust’s almost £7m.

A public consultation exercise will now run for the next six weeks.

Ms McMullan said the budget for general and primary dental services in Northern Ireland has fallen in real terms year on year since 2012, and added: “The morale of front line staff is at an all-time low. Government has failed to modernize the service, or offer contracts that are fit for purpose. It will need to show it is prepared to put patients first.”