Dentists warn of 'potentially disastrous' situation for treatment due to PPE shortages
AN organisation representing 900 dentists has accused the Department of Health of providing "atrocious communication" to the profession during the pandemic - and warned severe shortages of PPE masks could prevent services resuming.
In an open letter to the Stormont health committee, a local branch of the British Association of Private Dentistry (BAPDNI) said morale has "never been so low" with many emigrating and others suffering work-related stress.
They are also asking department chiefs for "full disclosure" of their efforts to secure Level 2 PPE for NHS dentistry.
They revealed they were aware of a supplier who approached the department last month offering "repeatable supply of tens of thousands of compliant masks at an extremely competitive cost" - but this was refused.
'Phase 3' for re-opening is to begin next Monday, with non-urgent treatments including fillings, crowns, veeneers and root canal - know as aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) - being offered.
However, it emerged last week that supplies of masks were delayed.
The group warns this will create a "potentially disastrous" scenario, leaving many patients with no emergency care.
There are more than 370 dental practices in the north, with 1,147 dentists registered to carry out NHS treatment.
Masks must be properly fitted to the face - it is known as 'fit testing' - to provide effective protection.
"If we use a very rough calculation of 10 clinical staff per practice (dentists, nurses, hygienists and therapists) then we have a workforce approaching 4000 strong to be 'fit tested'. We have received estimates that around 400 dentists have been fit tested but is not clear that they will be able to secure a supply of the same mask. It appears to be an impossible task for practices to acquire and fit test all their staff prior to 20th July," the letter states.
"This situation is potentially disastrous as the Urgent Dental Centres (UDCS) which can provide emergency dentistry including AGP procedures are due to shut down completely Monday to Friday from 20 July.
"It is our belief that this will leave a gaping hole, the scale of which may mean that independent dentists and other NHS dentists will simply be unable to cope."
The group also request that dental representation is included in a powerful new 'management board' set up by the department to make decisions on the rebuilding of the system post-Covid.
"The communication from various sectors with the DOH towards the dental profession has been nothing short of atrocious. We, the BAPDNI, would be more than happy to involve ourselves in appropriate formal engagement to help address matters with the aim of resolution and support for our members," they write.
Warnings for the long-term future of the profession are also made, with the body describing the current dental system as "unfit for purpose".
"The volume of care which dentists are forced to deliver is a constant unremitting source of stress.
"Dentist morale has never been so low with many giving serious consideration to leaving the profession. With the huge cost involved in training a dentist, does it not make financial sense that they are able to enter a system which allows them to care for their patients in an appropriate environment?"
The department said it wrote to practices on July 2 about providing "much needed support in re-building services through the provision of PPE".
"The expectation at that time was that it would take 10 to 14 days for deliveries to begin. Whilst all efforts have been made to meet those initial timescales, addressing the logistical challenges of a consignment of this magnitude to over 340 individual dental practices has been significant," a spokeswoman said.
"Deliveries will now start week commencing 20 July. In addition to the 3 million items of PPE the Financial Support Scheme has provided £12m in support payments to dentists to date. This scheme will continue for a further month to support the return of non-urgent dental care as the restrictions are lifted."