The Irish Dental Association (IDA) has warned that the dental profession in Ireland is on the brink of collapse and said that urgent direction was needed from the government if it is to survive the COVID-19 crisis, based on a survey of 358 if its members.
The IDA also has written to the Taoiseach, Minister for Health, party leaders, and the health spokespeople of the various political parties outlining the gravity of the situation and is seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister for Health.
According to the survey:
- 66 respondents (18%) said they have already closed their practice, at least temporarily.
- 35 (10%) plan to close in some form within the next two weeks because of the crisis.
- 42% are already restricted to providing emergency treatment.
- 48% estimate a drop of at least 90% in practice income in the medium to long term as a result of COVID-19.
Guidelines around maintaining social distancing of at least 2 meters between people are unworkable in a dental setting, says the IDA, which represents 2,000 public and private dentists practicing in Ireland.
Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the IDA, said that this unprecedented situation called for an unprecedented response from the government.
“The IDA has made numerous efforts to communicate this message to politicians, and we have received no clear direction whatsoever. Politicians need to wake up to the fact that the dental profession as we know it is disintegrating before our eyes due to the fact that dentists simply cannot practice under these circumstances,” said Hourihan.
“Dentists are frustrated with the advice given by the HPSC (Health Protection Surveillance Centre). They want to help all patients but particularly those in trouble and reluctantly feel compelled to alter their practice workings for the safeguard of patients, their staff, and their own health. In the majority of cases, that means laying off staff,” said Hourihan.
Approximately 10,000 people are employed directly and indirectly through dental practices in Ireland.
“The vast majority of practitioners in Ireland receive no support at all from the state, so are extremely exposed to this crisis. We have received notifications from dozens of practices saying they have already closed their doors, and our fear is that this number will multiply over the coming days,” said Hourihan.
“This is a tragedy for thousands of hardworking healthcare professionals who want to contribute to the wider healthcare effort and help their communities through this crisis without having to worry about their livelihoods. The dental profession urgently needs a wide-ranging package of supports in order to survive,” said Hourihan.
As experienced healthcare professionals, Hourihan added, dentists were willing to support the wider healthcare effort.
“We want to make it absolutely clear that dentists want to help their wider healthcare colleagues in combatting this virus. However, it is crucial that the government and politicians in general understand how dire this situation is for dentists and that we need action now to safeguard our livelihoods,” Hourihan said.