Dentists facing uphill struggle, as missed appointments top 14m

05 October 2020

The British Dental Association has warned dentists face an uphill struggle to restore services unless government is willing to support costs for new equipment that could radically expand patient access, as the number of missed appointments hits over 14m.

Official data on activity seen by the BDA indicates treatments delivered by NHS dental services in England are at a quarter of pre-Covid levels and have only begun to inch above typical demand for urgent care, which is currently receiving priority. Over 14.5m fewer treatments have been delivered in 2020 compared to the same period last year.

Dentists have been required to maintain 60-minute windows between patients after an aerosol generating procedure (AGP) to minimise risks of viral transmission, contributing to this dramatic fall in patient volumes. Recent recommendations by the Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme (SDCEP) – which are widely anticipated to inform official guidance across the UK – could reduce this ‘fallow period’ to as little as 10 minutes where dentists can demonstrate a sufficient number of air changes per hour (ACH) in their surgeries. 

The BDA has stressed that if practices – both NHS and private – are required to make changes to adhere to new official advice, then government will need to provide financial support. 

Progress will require many of the UK’s 12,000 practices to undergo an on-site survey by ventilation engineers. With practices already struggling to remain financially sustainable the BDA has stressed the government must show willingness underwrite this work and offer commitments for capital funding for necessary equipment.   

Practices will likely need mechanical ventilation, fitted internally or externally, with ducting as required, with those with surgeries without natural ventilation like windows facing significant challenges. It has been over a decade since dental services In England received any form of direct capital investment. Corporate provider {my}dentist recently announced a £1.25m fund to reduce fallow time to 20 minutes in the 600 practices in their group.

The BDA anticipate many patients with untreated decay will end up requiring more extensive and costly interventions as result of limited access to dental services. Oral cancers – which kill more Britons every year than car accidents – are also going undetected in the absence of routine check-ups. 

BDA chair Eddie Crouch said, “Dentists are facing an uphill struggle to restore services and get on top of an ever-growing backlog.   

"New rules could offer some hope, but only if government is willing to show leadership. If practices are going to get more patients back through their doors, it will hinge on support to invest in new kit.   

“Until we see commitments dentists will be fighting a losing battle, as early signs of decay are missed, and oral cancers go undetected.”