700 dentists press for urgent action to save dentistry in Northern Ireland

29 January 2024

The health service in Northern Ireland is caught in a “death spiral” without radical action, over 700 dentists and the British Dental Association (BDA) have warned.

In an open letter backed by Northern Ireland’s (NI) high street dentists, signatories asked Peter May, the Department of Health (DoH) permanent secretary, to share his plan “to ensure Health Service dentistry has a future”.

The dentists say the combination of a ban on dental amalgam, health budgets and the contractual framework is an “existential threat to NHS dentistry.” Without changes, it warned, “colleagues will be increasingly driven out of Health Service dentistry to keep their practices afloat.”

The letter says that this year’s dental budget has projected underspending. The BDA said it understands that spending on dentistry will be more than £10m below ‘normal’ levels. The letter added that the underspend was “not because of any lack of demand from patients, but because struggling practices need support to deliver.”

They urged the Department of Health to reinvest the underspend to aid struggling practices.

Signatories asked officials to follow the lead of the Scottish Government, which rolled out wide-ranging changes to a similar contractual framework in November 2023.

“Our signatures are a testament to the intolerable pressure which this service is under. We cannot go on as we are”, the writers plead. “We need your department to show leadership and take action now.”

The signatories added, “We are passionate about maintaining a future for Health Service dentistry, and we want to continue providing access to these vital services for our patients.”