Dentists' anger £12m sugar tax windfall is unspent by Stormont
Dentists have urged Stormont officials to "get a grip" and use a £12.3m windfall raised by the sugar tax to improve the oral health of children here.
The British Dental Association Northern Ireland said the money raised by the Soft Drinks Levy had now disappeared into a "black hole".
Devolved governments have been given full discretion on how to spend the money, and the Department of Finance previously stated the 2018-19 funding "was not ring-fenced for any particular purpose".
There has been fresh concern over the sugar tax this week, with Tory leadership candidate Boris Johnson saying he would review plans for "sin" taxes in favour of promoting exercise.
With Northern Ireland having the worst rates of decay in the UK, the BDA has said it's now time for Stormont officials to use the existing funds to improve children's oral health.
It said this should follow the example of pioneering programmes in Wales and Scotland which are reported to have saved millions in treatment costs through dedicated early years oral health programmes.
BDA NI says 72% of 15-year-olds here have tooth decay compared to 44% in England and 63% in Wales.
It's also estimated that local hospitals face a bill of more than £9.3m every year for paediatric tooth extractions.
BDA NI council chair Caroline Lappin said: "The current debate on the future of the sugar tax is a red herring.
"Not a penny of this windfall has been spent in the spirit that was intended.
"Funds that should have been invested in improving children's health have been spent helping Stormont accountants get their books to balance.
"A fraction of these proceeds could have transformed the oral health of the children who currently top the UK league table for tooth decay.
"All dentists would mourn the passing of the sugar levy.
"But the sad truth is, when it comes to actually helping the young here, it has never really existed.
"Our children's oral health is too important to be allowed to drift along any longer; that is why it will be a key theme at a forthcoming BDA 'Oral Health Matters' summit to take place at Stormont in the autumn".
The sugar tax was introduced in April 2018, with a levy on other unhealthy foods being considered to help tackle obesity rates.