Patients endure ‘staggering’ dental treatment wait

Monday 7th October 2019

Years of underinvestment and a failure to support high street dental practices are piling pressure on to Scotland’s hospitals, according to the British Dental Association.

A British Dental Association (BDA) representative has said “patients shouldn’t be waiting eons for life-changing surgery”, after a freedom of information request revealed one patient was stuck on a waiting list for more than four years.

The Grampian resident is reported to have been left waiting for jaw and face surgery for 243 weeks, while another in Tayside waited 131 weeks for treatment.

In Orkney, one patient waited 51 weeks for restorative dentistry and another in Shetland waited 43 weeks for oral and maxillofacial treatment.

“These procedures can help restore both functionality and appearance to a patient’s teeth and mouth after cancer or serious injuries,” explains David McColl from the BDA.

“Years of underinvestment and failure to support high street practices are heaping huge pressures on our hospitals. Ministers can’t go on treating dentistry as an optional extra in Scotland’s health service.”

In NHS Borders the longest wait recorded was 42 weeks for oral and maxillofacial treatment and a 39-week wait was endured by a patient within NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, while NHS Forth Valley and NHS Fife has patients who had been left waiting 40 weeks for oral and maxillofacial treatment.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who made the freedom of information request, are urging the government to reduce the “staggering” waiting times.

“In many cases such lengthy delays are seriously disrupting patients’ lives,” says the party’s health spokesperson, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP.

“Across Scotland, dental consultant vacancies are going unfilled and patients are left waiting. The most recent official figures confirm a “noticeable drop” in NHS dental staff, down almost 15% in the past five years.

“Liberal Democrats were instrumental in introducing free dental checks in Scotland and in pressing for a new dental school to address the shortage of dentists, particularly in remote and rural areas of Scotland. As a result, we’ve made progress as a country. However, as these new figures show, there are still glaring gaps in our dentistry services which urgently need addressed.

“The health secretary needs to take immediate action to get services back on track. For a start, she could publish the integrated workforce plan that staff were told would be out last year.”

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “No one should have to wait too long for dental treatment and that is why we have taken decisive action to address the issue.

“Our Waiting Times Improvement Plan will substantially and sustainably improve waiting times.

"We will continue to work with boards to ensure this additional funding delivers the substantial and sustainable improvements needed."

In Grampian, where the longest wait was recorded, the local health board has acknowledged “a significant number of people” are awaiting dental extractions following a referral from their own dentist.

"In order to clear the backlog, a contract has been awarded to a local clinic to carry out inspections and further treatment if necessary,” the board said in a statement.

"In the longer term, we hope to develop our capacity to perform this work in-house, but we are keen to reduce the number of patients waiting in the meantime."