Dentists react as government gives green light for routine care in England
The British Dental Association (BDA) welcomed the news the government has given the green light but cautioned that practices will need to move at different rates depending on availability and fitting of PPE, their ability to enact ongoing social distancing measures and time to implement appropriate cross-infection control.
NHS England and the Chief Dental Officer, Sara Hurley, confirmed last week that any practice that is ‘appropriately prepared’ can provide patient care from 8 June.
The BDA suggests this could see varying levels of treatments made available with immediate effect, with individual practitioners exercising their professional judgement on the pace of change.
The pace at which patient care can begin will be determined by a number of issues, such as stock levels of PPE. The availability of and ability to fit test ‘higher end’ PPE in particular may limit the universal restoration of a full range of dental care.
The BDA has expressed the view that steps should be taken to integrate dentistry into the wider government strategy on PPE supply led by Lord Deighton.
Dentist leaders have also warned the business model on which the service is based could change unalterably upon reopening, with social distancing and cross-infection control reducing capacity and potentially access levels by as much as two thirds.
The BDA is continuing to press for the NHS contractual framework to reflect the new reality and for additional support for private dentistry, including a business rates holiday – already offered to leisure and retail sectors – to be expanded to dental practices, alongside other support to mitigate against reduced patient numbers.
BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: ‘A return of high street dentistry we will be welcome news to millions of patients left with few options during lockdown, but key questions remain. It is right to allow practices to decide themselves when they are ready to open. Dentists will be keen to start providing care as soon as safely possible, but we will need everyone to be patient as practices get up and running.
‘Dentist can open their doors but won't be able to provide a full range of care without the necessary kit. Longer term, practices can only stay afloat with ongoing support, while social distancing continues and the costs of providing care are sky high.
‘Opening the floodgates risks raising false expectations, unless government is willing to step up and help.”
Gabriela Pueyo, General Manager of Bupa Dental Care, that runs more than 400 NHS and private practices across the UK, said: ‘We are delighted that we can begin to reopen our dental practices in England from Monday 8 June after the government announcement. This is a vital move to prevent long term damage to our patients’ oral health and dentistry as a whole. We are busy preparing practices, including introducing a new Patient Charter and additional measures to continue keeping patients and staff safe.’
Meanwhile, the British Association of Private Dentistry (BAPD) has sent a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock complaining how the dental profession ‘first heard of 8 June as the return date during the Prime Minister's COVID-19 briefing’.
The letter also addressed the difference between the devolved nations for a return to work. ‘The pathway back to work varies widely amongst the devolved Nations with both Wales and Scotland having dates later than 8 June for return to work; we have significant concerns that this will result in cross-border dental tourism and consequent damage to their economies and the reputations of dentists in addition to widening health inequalities in deprived areas. There is a risk of further overwhelming dental services in England due to the potential influx of patients from these regions.’
The BAPD expressed concerns about sourcing adequate PPE in time for the projected reopening on 8 June, suggesting ‘a broader and more timely consultation would have avoided this issue’ and is now calling for a public enquiry ‘into the poor management of dental services and the resultant ongoing dental health crisis during COVID-19’.