| 15.5°C Belfast

Thousands ‘could lose access to dental care if better PPE not provided’

Routine treatment resumed on Monday, with limited numbers of appointments to allow for regular cleaning of surgeries.

Close

Dentist Alan Clarke (Liam McBurney/PA)

Dentist Alan Clarke (Liam McBurney/PA)

Dentist Alan Clarke (Liam McBurney/PA)

Hundreds of thousands of patients will lose access to dental care if better protective equipment is not provided by the NHS, a dentist in Northern Ireland said.

Routine treatment resumed on Monday, with limited numbers of appointments to allow for regular cleaning of surgeries.

Urgent care centres remain open until the end of August.

Alan Clarke, from Belfast, has worked in the health service for the last eight years.

Close

Alan Clarke said many dental practices will be forced to privatise or they will go bankrupt (Liam McBurney/PA)

Alan Clarke said many dental practices will be forced to privatise or they will go bankrupt (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Alan Clarke said many dental practices will be forced to privatise or they will go bankrupt (Liam McBurney/PA)

He said: “We are really concerned in our practice for our patients and for the patients of the wider community of Northern Ireland.

“If sustainable options of personal protective equipment are not made available, we will find that many dental practices will be forced to privatise simply to cover costs, not to turn a profit, or they will go bankrupt.

“This is a serious situation.

“We are gravely concerned that hundreds of thousands of patients in Northern Ireland will lose access to dental care which they have been afforded for generations.”

Surgeries were shuttered in March to inhibit the spread of coronavirus.

Dentists have urged the Department of Health to cover the cost of purchasing a higher level of personal protective equipment.

They believe it is needed during aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) such as fillings.

Close

Surgeries were shuttered in March to inhibit the spread of coronavirus (Liam McBurney/PA)

Surgeries were shuttered in March to inhibit the spread of coronavirus (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Surgeries were shuttered in March to inhibit the spread of coronavirus (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Clarke said dentists were facing a crisis.

He added: “Many people who receive oral cancer screening, who see many of their own health needs already ignored due to the coronavirus pandemic, will find that in many months other needs will not be met.

“We will have children suffering pain, many patients who would have been seen will simply not be able to access the treatment.

“Unfortunately, it will be those from the lower socio-economic backgrounds who will be hit hardest and hit first.”

On Friday, the Health and Social Care Board launched a scheme to provide funding to general dental practices for mask fit testing.

The Health Department said: “This should help alleviate a key constraint for practices in their efforts to provide AGPs.”

Close

Health Minister Robin Swann’s department said dentists could refer patients on for urgent dental care to dedicated centres (Niall Carson/PA)

Health Minister Robin Swann’s department said dentists could refer patients on for urgent dental care to dedicated centres (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

Health Minister Robin Swann’s department said dentists could refer patients on for urgent dental care to dedicated centres (Niall Carson/PA)

It urged patients to contact their own dentist in the first instance for any dental problem and said they could offer appointments or refer for urgent dental care.

The department added: “Urgent dental care (UDC) centres will remain open until the end of August while the phased implementation to rebuild general dental services continues.

“The UDCs will be able to open as normal on Monday.

“The service will therefore continue uninterrupted.

“The delivery of £1 million worth of level 1 PPE is due to commence this week.”

The minister has also announced that a financial support scheme, which has already provided £16 million in payments to local dentists, will continue for a further month to support the return of non-urgent dental care as the restrictions are lifted.

In the interim, the department said it would engage with the profession around the provision of ongoing financial support for the remainder of 2020/21.

PA