Dental care on the verge of collapse

A STRABANE dentist has warned drastic action is needed from the Government within the next five years to prevent services collapsing.

Paul Brennan, who runs Mourneside Dental Surgery was speaking following a report this week which revealed nine out of 10 dental practices in the North are not taking on new NHS patients.

The local dentist said that rising costs to run a practice – along with staffing issues – have been pivotal in dentists deciding not to take NHS patients, he also warned that those who need dental treatment in the future may have their options restricted.

Mr Brennan explained, “Most practice owners are in their 50s and 60s – that was not the case 30 years ago and this is a result of it being very unattractive to own a practice these days.

“There’s an awful lot more stress, an awful lot more pressure and the rewards for doing so are just not there.

“If you have a practice, you’re probably just going to stay with it and run it until you retire. But our younger colleagues just look at us and think ‘no way’ and either go across the border or to work abroad. That is a big problem.

“The costs of running a practice have increased. Energy costs – as we are huge users of electricity – have doubled and material costs have risen between 15 and 20 per cent. We’re no different to any other business.

“Another problem we have is that most dental materials are imported,” he explained.

“We’ve had a weakening pound which has seen import prices go up. So we’ve been hit from every direction. Nothing has got cheaper,” Mr Brennan explained. “This idea practices can run and forget about finances will just lead to no more practices. This is a message we’ve been trying to get across to the powers that be and they just simply ignore it.

“But they’ve ignored it at their peril and, sadly, they could end up with a situation that is not fixable. Not amount of money might salvage it once we reach that stage because the system could well remain broken.

“When things go completely off the rails, it’s very hard to put them back on again.”

Mr Brennan also stated that heavy workloads and staffing issues were also a factor in dentists not taking on new NHS patients.


He continued, “We’re not accepting new NHS patients and haven’t done so for quite a while. It’s hard to know what each practice’s individual circumstances are. But most of the practices – certainly when speaking to practitioners – are so over-burdened with work that taking on new patients and trying to provide everyone with a decent service is going to be very difficult.

“Then there are issues with the NHS contract that a lot of treatment which would have to be provided on the NHS actually doesn’t cover the cost of providing it. That in itself gives a complete disincentive to provide it.

“Also Covid has created a huge backlog of work and dentists are just not in a position to take people on. In the west, this is a particular difficulty as it is hard to recruit new dentists and there’s been issues over the training of new dental nurses which in turn means we are struggling to get dental nurses to our practices. Perhaps we need incentives in the west to encourage practitioners out here because it’s always been a difficulty to do that. Sadly trying to convince younger practitioners who are perhaps ‘Belfast-centric’ to come out here is really quite difficult” Mr Brennan added.


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