The Dentist Magazine.

Dentists win clarity on 24-month appointment plans

Published: 12/6/2018 12:00:00 AM

The British Dental Association Scotland has welcomed clarity from the Scottish Government that it will not proceed with 24-month recall intervals for ‘low risk’ patients by default.

The Oral Health Improvement Plan (OHIP) had cited NICE guidance that patients not considered to be “at risk of or from oral disease” may be extended over time up to an interval of 24 months.

Since OHIP was published in January 2018 the issue has been a source of deep concern among the profession. In a survey of dentists that featured in BDA Scotland’s recent Oral Cancer Action Plan 97 per cent of respondents said they were concerned this would undermine detection of oral cancers. 77 per cent identified it as a major or severe risk.

Dentists are often the first health professionals to detect oral cancers, which kill three times as many Scots as car accidents. In 2016 1,240 people in Scotland were diagnosed with the condition – nearly five cases every working day. While other cancers have seen marked improvements there has been a 37 per cent increase in oral cancer deaths in the last decade.

Speaking to STV following the launch of BDA Scotland’s Oral Cancer Action plan, deputy CDO Tom Ferris said, "We have not said 24 months. The research said it's a possibility. That's for the decision that will be made by the patient and dentist together about what is the best interval between check-ups... so they are right to raise their concerns. We will have another period where we discuss with the profession." 

Robert Donald, chair of the BDA’s Scottish Council, said, “We welcome assurances that 24-month dental recall intervals will not be introduced – and that ‘high-risk’ patients will be seen more frequently than those in good oral health. The chief dental officer has been explicit that it will be for the dentist and patient to jointly decide on the appropriate recall interval. 

"The Scottish Government has acknowledged publicly that we are right to raise our concerns on this issue. The profession will have a further period of discussion with government to explore these concerns and hopefully come to a sensible solution that does not put our patients lives at risk. 

“This will come as welcome news for patients and practitioners. Our members were clear that telling ‘lower risk’ patients to come back in 24 months would only undermine efforts to meet a growing threat, while putting needless pressure on NHS cancer services. 

“We believe that patients should ideally be seen every six months, and that ‘high-risk’ patients should be seen more frequently. We remain convinced the many worthy ambitions in the Oral Health Improvement Plan will not be achieved without new investment. 

“It is now more than 10 months since the Plan launched and, apart from the introduction of occupational health services for dentists and their teams, which we have campaigned for and welcomed, none of the 41 actions in the Plan have been completed.

“Yes, it’s a long-term plan but the Scottish Government needs to provide greater clarity around priorities, budgets and timescales for all its key proposals. And we’ll be keeping the pressure up.”