DENTISTS are being caught out by "unfit for purpose" fee regulations, the leader for the profession in Scotland has warned.

David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, said Mr Taggart's case underlined the huge stress the system could place on practitioners.

READ MORE: Dentist says he was 'put through hell' for five years before case against him dropped

He said: “Dental treatment payments, and the regulations that underpin them, remains unfit for purpose. They are difficult to administer and seems set up to allow practitioners to fail.

“Officials should be providing real clarity and support, not setting up a minefield for dentists attempting to deliver the best possible care for patients under incredibly difficult circumstances.

“There is no place for bullying or threats to recover fees. While the Practioner Services Division (PSD)has made some improvements, further progress is urgently needed. Until then dedicated NHS dentists will keep falling foul of a system that lacks transparency.”

In August 2017, minutes of the Scottish Dental Practice Board - the body which oversees PSD - acknowledge that "prolonged investigation had a negative impact on dental practitioners' health and was detrimental to morale".

They also paint a picture of a service under pressure to meet targets.

In 2017, with Mr Taggart's case dragging on, it was noted that the sums recovered from practitioners for alleged mis-claiming had "slumped".

In November 2017, members were told that PSD's budget "was shrinking at a time of increased workload".

Investigators had been tasked with recovering £260,000 in the 2017/18 financial year, up from the previous £200,000 annual target.

Although PSD - now part of NHS National Services Scotland - can also pursue opticians, pharmacists and GPs, the minutes note that recoveries from dentists are "disproportionate when compared to other practitioner groups".

In 2015/16, recoveries from dentists accounted for half the £1 million recouped.

This may have less to do with 'dodgy dentists' than dodgy guidance, however.

In August 2016, the minutes note that the Statement of Dental Remuneration (SDR) - the regulations covering dental payments - was "very complex and prone to claiming errors".

In Northern Ireland a "plain English" version is credited with having significantly reduced claiming errors and improving relations between dentists and the Northern Irish equivalent of the PSD.

Despite repeated appeals by the British Dental Association (BDA) an equivalent Scottish document is yet to be made available to practitioners.

READ MORE: Edinburgh dentist wins case after being told she owed £70k based on 'miniscule' sampling of patient records 

Mr Taggart's case is not unique. In March 2018, Edinburgh dentist Joanna Adamczak-Gawrychowska was cleared of misclaiming £70,000 after a four-year dispute.

The judgment by Lord Arthurson at the Court of Session described the case against her as "irrational and unfair" and based on a "miniscule sampling" of just 33 patient record cards.

Like Mr Taggart, £48,000 had been clawed back from Ms Adamczak-Gawrychowska by the time she eventually launched legal proceedings.

Her lawyers argued that NHS bodies are only entitled to recover money that it can show has been overpaid, not sums that "may have been overpaid when calculated on the basis of inference, sampling or on an educated guess".

In January this year, a survey of more than 2000 UK dentists by the BDA found that half felt too stressed to cope with the job and nearly one in five had seriously considered suicide.

More than half of practice owners in Scotland have described their morale as 'low or 'very low', with the trade union warning that the pressures on of increasing expenses and regulation is becoming "intolerable" for some dentists.

A spokeswoman for NHS NSS, said: "PSD is responsible for ensuring that public money is paid to dentists only where treatments are provided in accordance with the regulations and payment system which was set by the Scottish Government, in consultation with the British Dental Association. 

"PSD carries out post-payment verification following an agreed, transparent protocol and, where required, are lawfully entitled to recover overpayments identified.”