Our £850 million waiting times improvement plan will substantially and sustainably improve waiting times, including those for in-patient and day-case dental treatment.
Across Scotland, dental consultant vacancies are going unfilled and patients are left waiting. The British Dental Association described the figures acquired by the Scottish Parliament information centre and Scottish Liberal Democrats as “eye-watering” and it said that patients can effectively expect to wait much longer. The BDA said that those long waits are being driven by a failure on prevention and a failure to invest in the workforce. The most recent Information Services Division figures show a “noticeable drop” in national health service dental staff, down 14.7 per cent in the past five years alone. Can the minister explain why?
Two points were made about the BDA. One was on workforce, which I will come to shortly, and the other was on prevention. Prevention is an area where we are having substantial success across Scotland. The childsmile programme is making a real difference. It helps to make sure that children know how to brush their teeth properly and provides fluoride varnish applications. We will be announcing the next stage of that under the community challenge fund of the oral health improvement plan, and we will be announcing which projects will be taken forward that are aimed at reducing further the oral health inequalities among children.
On the other area, a challenge that we no longer have is people being unable to access an NHS dentist—very few people cannot access one. When this Government took over in 2007, huge numbers of people were unable to access an NHS dentist, and we have managed to turn that around. Sometimes, it is important to acknowledge progress where it has been made, so we should thank our dental colleagues for rising to the challenge and making sure that people can, in the first place, access NHS dental practices.
Last week, I had a chat with the BDA, and one of the challenging areas is the shortage of anaesthetic consultants, which leads to a number of the waiting times figures. Even there, since 2006, we have increased the numbers of anaesthetic consultants by 41.7 per cent—moving from 549 up to 778.
I am in no way suggesting that everything is rosy. I accept that some of the waits and more challenging cases are unacceptable, particularly when we are talking about children, who are often in pain. We need to continue to do better around that. We are making a difference, and the waiting times improvement plan is designed to make it even better.
I have a constituent who requires both in-patient and day-case support, but she is not getting any treatment. In 1995, Angela Mulhern fell victim to William John Duff. He performed a series of unnecessary and incompetent dental surgical procedures, which have caused tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of damage to her teeth and jawbone and left her in constant pain. Ms Mulhern underwent the treatment as an NHS patient yet the Scottish NHS has not even offered to carry out the necessary remedial work. Will the minister agree to meet Ms Mulhern and me?