Dental Reform in Northern Ireland: Facing Challenges Ahead of Restored Assembly
The case for dental reform in Northern Ireland is facing significant obstacles as the Department of Health has proposed budget cuts of £360m from this year's health budget, including an end to the Rebuilding Support Scheme (RSS) and a 10% reduction in fees. These cuts have been met with opposition from dental professionals who warn that they would only serve to further erode Health Service dentistry.
The efforts to progress important policies on dental workforce, oral health improvement, and GDS contract reform are seemingly being overruled by unelected civil servants. This has perpetuated a sense that things are moving backwards at a time when considerable progress is needed. The lack of investment and strategic direction in health service dentistry has been an issue for many years.
Despite these challenges, dental professionals are redoubling their efforts to press the case for dentistry ahead of a potentially pivotal time. They are working to ensure that dental reform is on the transformation agenda when the Assembly is restored in the coming months, along with an associated financial package/new funding arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Many letters from concerned citizens to MLAs have already had an impact, prompting a high volume of correspondence from elected representatives to the Permanent Secretary in support of dentistry and the reforms needed. Dental professionals remain committed to challenging the proposed cuts and holding the Department of Health accountable for its actions or inaction towards moving dentistry forward.
Dental reform is "ripe for the picking," and urgent action is needed to make services sustainable for future generations. The meeting with the Permanent Secretary in the coming days will be crucial in addressing the challenges faced by dental professionals in Northern Ireland and pressing for much-needed reforms.