A north-east MSP has warned NHS dentists could struggle to survive after lockdown due to cuts in funding.
Dental practices across the country closed on March 23 as the UK entered lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Scottish Government funding for dentistry has also been cut by 20% – prompting hundreds of practices across the country to form the Scottish Dental Practice Owners (SDPO).
The group – which contains more than 700 NHS practices, many of which are located in the north-east – has written to Scottish Government health minister Jeane Freeman, outlining a range of concerns.
According to the SDPO, 23 of the practices are members in the Grampian area, serving around 120,000 patients.
Regional Conservative MSP Liam Kerr has backed the group’s concerns over funding cuts – and warned the potential closure of practices would have knock-on effects for patients.
He said: “This policy is now putting noroth-east dentists and 120,000 patients at risk.
“As the professionals themselves say, there have been no diagnoses, examinations and further investigations over a period of 11 weeks, with further delays now anticipated.
“If the dentists performing NHS work are telling us their businesses may not survive, that’s got to be treated as an emergency by Jeane Freeman.
“Closed practices will mean longer waiting lists and the potential for a decline in dental health.
“If a dentist goes bankrupt, they can lose their registration, so when they are gone, they are gone.”
A recent survey by the SDPO showed 91% of dentists had doubts over whether they would be able to reopen after the coronavirus crisis.
In the letter to Ms Freeman, the organisation warned dentists could lose their registrations over the financial difficulties caused.
“In July all payment holidays (including mortgages) will cease, nurses will have to be taken off furlough, owners will have to contribute further to those staying on furlough and there will be an increase in consumable and set up costs.
“We will also have to pay for some lab bills with no patient contribution or extra funding. As a group we have had to take out business loans to help us support our businesses. Where other healthcare groups have been supported at 100% we have been expected to place ourselves in more and more debt.
“If a principal dentist were to lose their business and go bankrupt, then they would no longer be able to apply for a list number and may lose their GDC registration and full livelihood.
“This in turn would result in the recurrence of unmet dental need in Scotland.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The remobilisation of NHS dental practices is an extremely complex process and the health and safety of all dental patients and staff is the main consideration.
“The Scottish Government has listened to the concerns of dentists throughout the pandemic and established measures to ensure the financial sustainability of NHS dental practices during this difficult and uncertain period.
“NHS Health Boards established 56 urgent dental care centres on day one of lockdown and there are now 69 operating across Scotland. In May over 10,000 patients with acute dental problems were treated at urgent care centres and advice was provided to over 20,000 people by telephone.
“The chief dental officer and his team are in contact with NHS Boards to ensure dental practices have guidance on appropriate procedures for seeing patients. They have worked closely with the NHS Scotland procurement teams to ensure a robust and sustainable supply of PPE is available to NHS dental practices in the recovery phase.”