Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: Northern Ireland dental practices weeks from collapse

Even after the health crisis is over, fewer than a third estimate they will be placed to restore pre-pandemic levels of patient access

THREE-quarters of Northern Ireland dental practices are just weeks from collapse after being forced to stop treating patients due to lockdown restrictions to halt the spread of Covid-19.

The suspension of all routine care has left 18 per cent of practices warning they will not survive past the end of April, with three quarters only financially sustainable for three months or less.

Even after the health crisis is over, less than a third - 29.3 per cent - estimate they will be able to restore pre-pandemic levels of patient access.

The British Dental Association (BDA) said while the vast majority of practices are mixed, delivering both NHS and private care, those in the north "performing a greater share of private work appear most exposed".

A poll of members found 76 per cent with `low or no NHS commitment' (a quarter or less) "will face imminent difficulties in the next three months".

However, even those with three quarters or more NHS commitments have 70.7 per cent of practices looking at collapse in that period,

The BDA said while the NHS side of practices has been offered some support by government, if those practices with a greater reliance on private work go under whatever service remains will be unable to meet patient demand.

Seventy-two per cent of dentists who have applied for a government backed interruption loan were unable to secure credit, with many forced to seek commercial loans to stay afloat, at reported interest rates of over 20 per cent.

The BMA said the private side of dentistry "effectively cross subsidises the NHS budget" and have called for full rates relief to be extended to all high street practices and the British government to immediately "simplify and expand" its loan scheme.

Dentists earning more than £50,000 are excluded from the scheme.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said help must be available for all.

"Practices across Northern Ireland are now weeks from a cliff edge, many saddling themselves with debt they may never be able to repay.

"It was right to suspend all non-urgent care, but without meaningful support the nation's dental services face decimation, and no practice can be excluded.

"Dentistry cannot weather this storm when nearly every surgery relies on private care to stay afloat. If officials let these vital services go to wall the impact will be felt by patients in every community in Northern Ireland."

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