The British Dental Association (BDA) welcomes the news that the government has approved the restoration of routine dental care services in England but cautions that practices will need to move at different rates depending on the availability and fitting of personal protective equipment (PPE), their ability to enact ongoing social distancing measures, and time to implement appropriate cross-infection control.
National Health Service (NHS) England and Chief Dental Officer Sara Hurley, BDS, MSc, MA, have now confirmed that any practice that feels it is appropriately prepared can provide patient care starting on June 8. This could see varying levels of treatments made available with immediate effect, the BDA said, with individual practitioners exercising their professional judgement on the pace of change.
A number of issues will determine the pace at which patient care can begin, the BDA said, such as stock levels of PPE. The availability of and ability to fit-test higher-end PPE in particular may limit the universal restoration of a full range of dental care. The BDA believes that steps should be taken to integrate dentistry into the wider government strategy of PPE supply led by Lord Paul Clive Deighton, former Commercial Secretary to the Treasury.
According to the BDA, dentist leaders also have warned that the whole business model that the service is based on could change unalterably upon reopening, with social distancing and cross-infection control reducing capacity and potentially access levels by as much as two thirds.
The BDA further said that is continuing to press for the NHS contractual framework to reflect the new reality and for additional support for private dentistry, including a business rates holiday that already is offered to the leisure and retail sectors, to be expanded to dental practices alongside other support to mitigate against reduced patient numbers.
“A return of high street dentistry will be welcome news to millions of patients left with few options during lockdown, but key questions remain,” said BDA chair Mick Armstrong.
“It is right to allow practices to decide themselves when they are ready to open. Dentists will be keep to start providing care as soon as safely possible, but we will need everyone to be patient as practices get up and running,” Armstrong said.
“Dentists can open their doors but won’t be able to provide a full range of care without the necessary kit. Longer-term practices can only stay afloat with ongoing support, while social distancing continues and the costs of providing care are sky-high,” said Armstrong.
“Opening the floodgates risks raising false expectations unless government is willing to step up and help,” said Armstrong.
Meanwhile, the BDA is surveying dental practice owners in England to investigate what challenges they are experiencing in getting ready for the potential resumption of face to face care on June 8.
The online survey is designed to take no more than five to 10 minutes to complete and will help the BDA find out the challenges owners are facing and help the organization make the case to the government on what is needed to get back to providing effective and safe patient care, the BDA said.
The BDA wants to know about owners’ intentions for reopening, timing, PPE availability, and their anticipated levels of capacity, especially as the NHS’s sudden announcement on May 28 left little time for many practices to plan, the BDA said.
“Last Thursday’s announcement came as a bolt from the blue for practices across England. In under a week, practices can reopen,” Armstrong said.
“But from PPE to getting practices set up for social distancing, it has not given colleagues the time to plan and prepare. From lower patient volumes to higher costs, we know practices will need support to survive the new normal,” he said.
“We have been pressing for a timeline to restore face-to-face care on the high street across the UK. But opening the floodgates without recognizing the scale of the challenge ahead is fraught with problems,” Armstrong said.