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Call for closer links between GPs and dentists

New drive to tackle oral cancer launched

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 15 November 2018

GPs must work more closely and liaise better with dentists if the rising number of patients with oral cancer are to be helped properly, according to a new action plan.

The action plan launched by trade union the British Dental Association (BDA) calls for better coordination between health professionals, checks to ensure patients have regular dental check-ups, and better detection and prevention of the disease.

The document Oral Cancer: A Plan for Action was launched in Edinburgh by BDA Scotland at a Stand Up to Oral Cancer event held to coincide with Mouth Cancer Action Month in November.

New cases of oral cancer in the UK have reached 8,302 per year and this has increased by 49% in the last decade. Cancer Research UK estimates that incidence rates for oral cancers will rise by a further 33% in the UK by 2035.

In the UK last year, 2,722 people died after developing oral cancer. The 10-year survival rate is between 19% and 58%, depending on where the cancer strikes and how early it is diagnosed.

The plan focuses on prevention, early detection and having better referral pathways to ensure good links between dentists, GPs and pharmacists.

It follows the publication of the Scottish Government’s Oral Health Improvement Plan (OHIP) earlier this year, which proposed extending the dental recall interval for some patients to 24 months – a move strongly opposed by the BDA.

Anas Sarwar MSP (member of the Scottish Parliament) has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for sustainable and innovative approaches to oral cancer treatment, and expressing concern over the potential impact of the OHIP.

BDA Scotland said it wanted a strategic focus on early detection, prevention and joining-up services, with measures including sufficient resources for alcohol treatment and smoking cessation programmes, and a catch-up programme to offer 140,000 older school-aged boys access to the vaccination programme for the cancer-causing Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

David Cross, vice-chair of the BDA's Scottish Council said: “Dentists are on the front line of a battle against some of the fastest rising cancers in Scotland. Early detection is key, but now risks becoming a casualty of a cost-cutting exercise.

“People in otherwise good health are succumbing to this disease. Telling our 'lower risk' patients to come back in two years will only handicap efforts to meet a growing threat, while putting further pressure on NHS cancer services.

“Oral cancer now claims three times as many lives in Scotland as car accidents. Rather than chasing quick savings we need to see concrete plans and real investment to help turn the tables on this devastating but preventable disease.”

The BDA is working with the BMA and Community Pharmacy Scotland on the plan and is developing partnerships and links with other organisations such as ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Scotland.

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