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Northern Ireland dentists demand answers on NHS birthday investment, following sugar tax lost windfall

19 December 2018

The BDA has urged officials to put the £600m NHS ‘birthday present’ to work on prevention, following misuse of sugar levy proceeds.

In an open letter to Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary, Department of Health, dentist leaders have sought assurances that any new spending will go to support frontline and preventive services. Officials in Northern Ireland will have full discretion on how new monies are spent, and are not obliged to spend it on the health service.


Dentist leaders have attacked the lack of transparency over the use of the estimated £12.3 million proceeds from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which are ring fenced for school sports in England. The Northern Ireland Department of Finance has confirmed that “the 2018-19 funding was not ring-fenced for any particular purpose.


The BDA is leading calls for a wholesale upgrade to Northern Ireland's oral health strategy, which it has described as a "museum piece", which fails to deliver a preventive focus or address Northern Ireland's status at the top of UK league table for tooth decay. 

It is now over a decade old, with day to day decisions based on obsolete data from 2003. 72% of 15 year-olds In Northern Ireland have tooth decay compared to 44% in England and 63% in Wales.

Earlier this year the BDA revealed that Northern Ireland's dismal oral health statistics have left hospitals facing a bill of more than £9.3 million a year for paediatric tooth extractions. 

In the absence of a government, the BDA has urged officials to make a serious long-term investment in prevention to bring down these costs. It has called for Northern Ireland to follow pioneering programmes from devolved governments in Wales and Scotland which have shaved millions off treatment costs through dedicated early years oral health programmes. 

Lack of government in Northern Ireland means it is now the only UK region not to have committed to expansion of the HPV vaccination programme to boys – HPV is a major driver of oral cancers. Oral cancer rates are set to double by 2035 and is increasing faster among men than women. With every year that passes 12,000 more boys in Northern Ireland are left unprotected against HPV-related diseases.

Roz McMullan, Chair of the BDA's Northern Ireland Council said:


"Health professionals now require assurances that money earmarked for safeguarding the future of the NHS will actually be spent for that purpose.

"This sugar levy windfall was meant to fight obesity, but instead it seems proceeds are simply helping Stormont accountants balance the books. Officials must not make the same mistake twice.

"Sadly, paralysis at Stormont is shutting down strategic thinking and fresh investment across our health service. We top the UK league table for oral disease, yet there are no plans to upgrade our antique oral health strategy, or even extend lifesaving vaccines to protect boys from oral cancer.


"The 70th birthday gift needs to provide a real legacy. Tooth decay remains the number one reason for child hospital admission, and investing in prevention could save our Health Service millions."


Prevention first for oral health

When it comes to oral health, we believe in prevention first: tooth decay is an avoidable disease and we are campaigning for Governments to take this problem seriously, to act now and invest in real prevention. Read our latest blogs on the topic of public health in dentistry.


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