Dental patients will find ‘skeleton service’ as third of practices set to reopen
Almost two thirds of dental practices in England are not planning to reopen on Monday, a survey by an industry union suggests.
The British Dental Association (BDA) warned there will be no return to “business as usual” for dentistry, with patients likely to see a “skeleton service” on June 8.
Practices have been told they can reopen on Monday if adequate coronavirus safety measures are in place to protect staff and patients.
But a poll of 2,053 surgeries by the BDA found just over a third (36%) are planning to return next week.
It comes as dental leaders expressed concern about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for their practices, which would leave them shut.
BDA chairman Mick Armstrong said: “Anyone expecting dentistry to magically return on Monday will find only a skeleton service.
“Those practices reopening now face fewer patients and higher costs and will struggle to meet demand.
“Dentists returning to work still lack the support offered to our neighbours on the high street, and even clarity on key worker status when it comes to childcare.”
The BDA poll found that more than 60% of practices estimate they will be able to treat less than a quarter of the patient numbers they saw prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Just one third of practices said they had enough PPE to provide face-to-face care, and only 15% reported they would be able to offer a full range of treatment.
However, more than 80% of practices expect to reopen “to some level” by the end of June, according to the poll.
The BDA said social distancing policies and decontamination will lead to longer treatment slots and fewer patients, which could leave practices unable to maintain their financial viability.
The union said its findings “underline the need” for Government support and has called for clarification on key worker status for dental staff, as well as “action” on PPE supplies.
According to the BDA’s poll, 78% of dentists said cash flow problems were a barrier to them reopening, while 63% said they had difficulties getting their practices ready for social distancing.
A further 40% reported having issues with access to childcare, which the BDA said was due to a Government “failure” to provide clarity on their key worker status.
Under guidance issued by the Office of the Chief Dental Officer and NHS England, remote dental consultations are set to continue but patients who are not thought to be infected with Covid-19 could be offered face-to-face appointments.
Meanwhile, suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases who require urgent dental care will be referred to Urgent Dental Care hubs.
Guidance says that aerosol generating procedures (AGP) – a dental treatment where water instruments are used – should be avoided where possible.
Such procedures can increase the risk of transmission to healthcare workers and should only be carried out if a practice has appropriate PPE, advice states.
Commenting on the poll, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This will no doubt have been an agonising time for those suffering from dental problems during the lockdown.
“The reopening of dental practices is a welcome step, but it is vital that this doesn’t risk the health of dentists, patients and staff.”
The BDA said there are about 10,000 dental practices in England.