No routine dental or eye appointments 'for some time yet'
ROUTINE dental appointments are still "some time off" despite the Department of Health announcement of a `phased return' of services, dentists have warned.
Unlike in England and Scotland, dental practices in Northern Ireland remained open during the pandemic for limited face-to-face care to patients needing urgent treatment.
According to British Dental Association NI figures, around three-quarters of practices saw more 2,100 patients face-to-face in practice in the week ending May 17, "supporting provision of emergency dental care alongside the five Urgent Dental Care (UDC) centres".
From Monday, all practices will begin offering face-to-face dental care for patients with an urgent dental care need as part of the north's phased return to general dental services.
Patients will be seen by their own practice before referrals to UDC centres, with treatments still limited to non-aerosol generating procedures, with patients referred to UDCs to have initially been seen face-to-face by the referring practice.
Aerosol generating procedures carry a risk of transmission of acute respiratory infections (such as Covid-19) to healthcare workers.
BDA NI warned patients not to expect a return to `dentistry as normal', with non-urgent dental care only be available from Phase 2 of the dental recovery plan and routine appointments and the use of aerosol generating procedures only available on Phase 3.
Timescales for the next two phases have not yet been published.
Richard Graham, chair of the BDA NI Dental Practice Committee, representing high street dentists said people should carry on as before.
"Dentists have been working hard in difficult circumstances since the beginning of lockdown to ensure that patients can receive the emergency care they require.
"If someone is experiencing severe dental pain, they should continue to call their own dentist in the first instance. The dentist will make an initial assessment over the phone, and will advise on the most appropriate course of treatment thereafter."
For people needing eye tests the College of Optometrists indicates that, like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland remains in the `red phase' of its pandemic management plan.
This assesses Covid-19 as still "in general circulation NHS services at critical risk", with the next `amber period' where the virus is "in general circulation - (allowing) phased reopening with social distancing and infection control" or "present in the UK, but the number of cases and transmission is low".
William Stockdale, chair of Optometry NI, said opticians are "ready to return" when it is safe to do.
"Optometry practices across Northern Ireland are currently providing Urgent and Essential Care via remote telephone or video means and where necessary, by face to face consultation," he said.
"Appropriate PPE is being used and practices have prepared themselves for social distancing and enhanced infection control requirements.
"We realise that the overarching public health aim is to reduce the opportunity for, and the risk of transmission of Covid-19 and as a profession we fully support this.
"We are however ready to return and waiting to provide full optometry services, meeting Northern Ireland's eye health needs and preventing sight loss as soon as the Department of Health advise that it is safe to do so."