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Sugar levy must go towards prevention

10 April 2019

Sugar levy must go towards prevention

As the Sugar Levy reaches its first birthday with higher than expected revenues the BDA has urged government and local authorities to step up the in the fight against tooth decay, through cost-effective programmes such as supervised brushing in nurseries.

Estimates from the Local Government Association suggest HMRC have amassed an estimated £250m in revenues. Dentist leaders have stressed that just 2% of current revenues would be sufficient to bring supervised teeth brushing programmes to 5-year-old children in the greatest need. To date no levy revenue has been earmarked to combat tooth decay.

The tried and tested policy can generate up to a £3.66 return on investment for every £1 spent in the most deprived communities. Official estimates show targeting the most deprived quintile of 5-year olds in England, would generate expected savings after 5 years of the programme of nearly £10 million – £7.5 million in hospital treatment costs alone - with a total return on investment of nearly £2 saved for every £1 spent.

Calculations show the £5 million scheme would break even in year 1, and after 10 years would save over 60,000 school days from being lost through absence, and parents from losing over 25,000 working days.

Scotland and Wales have dedicated national child oral health programmes, operating in both nurseries and primary schools built around supervised teeth brushing. England's equivalent, the Starting Well programme, is operating in just 13 local authorities, with no new money attached. 

Official data has revealed an 18% increase in the number of extractions taking place on children in hospitals since 2012, costing the NHS £205 million.

Changes to how the sugar levy operates will come into effect this financial year with no Capital Fund available, so revenues raised may blur into schools daily spend with very little oversight. Critics have pointed to cases of funds being used for routine maintenance and repairs. Dentists have called for a clear commitment to set aside a proportion of money raised for oral health programmes.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: "Sugar is fuelling an epidemic of decay, and it's only right some of this windfall is used to make good on the damage.

"A tiny fraction of this revenue could transform the oral health of children in our most deprived communities. We shouldn't be spending millions on extractions, when tried and tested polices can make a lasting difference.

"Supervised toothbrushing is a winning investment, that the government's own models show will yield clear returns for our children's health and an overstretched NHS.

"The levy proceeds were meant to be put to work on prevention. Dentists have seen what works, and the funds are at hand. All that's required now is the political will."



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