‘Oral health strategy absence not acceptable in area of highest need’

The lack of an updated oral health strategy for the North needs to be remedied says Mark H. Durkan.
The lack of an updated oral health strategy for the North needs to be remedied says Mark H. Durkan.

The lack of an updated oral health strategy in a region with the worst dental health in the whole of the UK has been branded entirely unacceptable by the SDLP health spokesman and Foyle MLA Mark H. Durkan.

Mr. Durkan was responding to scatching criticisms by the dentists’ lobby for the North over what it branded a lack of direction in oral health policy.

Tristen Kelso, the Director of the British Dental Association in the North, in a letter to the NI Affairs Committee, said that the last oral health strategy here was published in 2007 and it hasn’t been formally reviewed since.

He wrote: “It is not only cancer where the Northern Ireland population have been let down; oral health, which historically has been accepted as being the worst in the UK, has also been functioning in a policy

vacuum in the absence of a current Oral Health Strategy.

“The most recent strategy dates back to 2007. Dentists in Northern Ireland are highly committed to seeing the oral health of the population increase; while child oral health has seen steady improvements, we believe much more can be achieved simply by better co-ordination of resources and stakeholders, and a fresh ambitious vision for the improvements we want to make.

“In essence, a prioritisation of oral health by the Department of Health, and in so doing, acknowledging the wider health benefits that could be achieved via upstream intervention - on obesity, diabetes, cancer and beyond - is badly needed.”

Mr. Kelso went on to state that the BDA’s members wanted to deliver a situation where children in the North no longer underwent the highest number of General Anaesthetic extractions in the UK, and where “our most vulnerable elderly population’s oral health is no longer neglected through inadequate provision”.

Mr Durkan agreed, stating: “It is completely unacceptable that there is no Oral Health Strategy for the North. Especially when we consider the fact that we have the worst oral health in the UK.

“People here are being let down and not for the first time, in regards to implementing legislation and policies which could massively improve their health.

“Failure to ring-fence money raised through the ‘Sugar Tax’, for example, was an opportunity lost and that is a direct consequence of not having a functioning government. Revenue generated by this tax should have been ring-fenced for issues including oral health and in the process tackled a myriad of other problems- from obesity to diabetes- both of which are among the greatest challenges currently facing the health service.”