Open your wallet, say argh!

A SIZEABLE minority of Scots fear for the future of dental treatment on the National Health Service. Such concerns are hardly eased by reports this month that a new £2m NHS dental practice near Aberdeen is lying empty because dentists cannot be found to run it, or that Highlands residents are travelling to Glasgow to register with a dentist offering treatment on the NHS.

According to a survey by healthcare insurer HSA, 42% of Scots believe it is only a matter of time before NHS dentistry disappears altogether. The doomsayers may yet be proved right if the dramatic decline in the number of dentists willing to treat patients on the NHS identified by the Scottish Consumer Council is allowed to continue.

The SCC's survey found there has been a massive drop in the number of Scottish dentists willing to take on new NHS patients, or even to continue treating existing NHS patients. In 1997, 100% of dental practices treated those qualifying for free treatment on the NHS. By last year, that had shrunk to just 78%, while those willing to treat patients not eligible for free treatment as NHS patients had fallen to just 57%.

More worrying still is the growing number of dentists who are making free NHS treatment for children conditional. Just 53% of the practices surveyed across Scotland said they would register a child as a new NHS patient, and the survey identified some practices (in Moray, Perth, Stirling and East Dunbartonshire) which blatantly refused to register children unless their parents were first registered as private patients.

Indeed, an increasing number of dental plan providers are including cover for children, even though it should, in theory, be provided free on the NHS. Insurer WPA said it had added children to its plan last year after repeated requests from parents who had found it impossible to find a dentist willing to treat their children on the NHS.

It remains to be seen what the new SNP-led Executive will do to try to halt the decline of NHS provision. However, an increasing number of Scots have little choice but to find the money to pay for their family's dental treatment. Below we explain the payment options

Read the rest at Scotland on Sunday