The British Dental Association NI and 500 high street dentists have written to Health Minister Robin Swann to call time on the dire situation facing Health Service dentistry, urging the Department of Health to set out tangible solutions to overhaul the decades-old General Dental Services (GDS) contract.

18 months on from the start of this pandemic, signatories state that many are now burned out and utterly demoralised, and that the present situation in Health Service dentistry has become intolerable, and unstainable. Dental professionals report they have been working harder than ever to meet more stringent infection prevention control measures but remain “hamstrung” in the number of patients they can see in a day.

Practices are now facing huge challenges trying to recruit associates and dental nurses to provide Health Service care, and the growing public access problems that have resulted post-covid. Health Service dentistry has been on a downward trajectory for over a decade, with the service becoming increasingly financially unviable in its own right.

Dentists have urged the Department of Health to face up to the crisis in dentistry and come forward with concrete solutions aimed at modernising Health Service dentistry, and that addresses the terms and conditions associated with providing Health Service dentistry to safeguard its future.

Richard Graham, chair of the British Dental Association’s NI Dental Practice Committee, said, “We have reached a point where the majority of NHS committed dental professionals are feeling utterly demoralised, burned-out, and concerned for the future.

“Already, we see the difficulties patients have in being able to access NHS dental services. That situation will only be compounded many times over if dentists continue to see little hope that their decades-old contract model will be replaced with something that works, both for practitioners, and the public alike. A 1990s activity-based contract model that was driven into the ground pre-covid has collapsed irreparably. We need an overhaul of GDS, and we need it urgently.

“Over the course of a weekend, almost half of GDPs in Northern Ireland put their name to our letter to the minister saying ‘enough is enough’.

“Without a fundamental shift of trajectory away from a race to the bottom, and meaningful work on a new GDS contract that works better for the public and practitioners alike, Health Service dentistry will not survive.”