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November will not mark a return to normal dental services

This week we have reiterated our warning that the resumption of the ‘full range’ of NHS treatments in Scotland must not be perceived as a return to routine care.

Our recent poll supports the view from dental leaders that the pandemic has caused a huge backlog in unmet treatment built up over lockdown, and will require continued priority to be given to urgent cases.

Our findings reveal the limited capacity in the service:

  • Two-thirds (66%) are operating at less than a quarter of their pre-COVID capacity, with social distancing and new operating procedures leaving them capable of seeing a fraction of their former patient numbers.
  • 80% report less focus on routine NHS dentistry, with 53% report more focus on urgent cases, with 63% stating less focus on cosmetic dentistry.
  • The greatest levels of concern with the Scottish Government’s performance has been on managing patient expectations, where 84% of practices expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s record. This compares to 43% dissatisfied with access to PPE, 58% on financial support. 82% were dissatisfied with the government’s overall performance during the pandemic in relation to the service. We understand that there is a growing anxiety over a ‘two-tier’ system in Scotland, however we maintain that the reintroduction of full services should not have come when COVID transmission rates are increasing, and a huge swathe of the country is already facing Level 3-type restrictions.

We have also expressed concerns about the reintroduction of the Statement of Dental Remuneration (SDR) as a temporary measure for the next phase of reopening. We made it clear that a return to the pre-COVID SDR is not appropriate at this time.

We are pleased that the Scottish Government addressed some of the issues we raised about remobilisation– for example, by extending the transitional period – however more support is needed to help practices who cannot meet the prescribed activity levels due to extenuating circumstances.

Equally, while we welcome the Scottish Government communications that seek to provide a much needed ‘reality-check’ to patients, we continue to call on all NHS Boards to follow their lead with clear and consistent messaging. We must reduce patient frustration and prevent practices and their staff from being overwhelmed.

As David McColl, Chair of our Scottish Dental Practice Committee, has said: “Full services are returning at a time when transmission rates are surging and nearly every practice is feeling the squeeze.

“It is paramount that officials communicate this message effectively to the public. It now takes a nurse 42 minutes to thoroughly deep clean a surgery following a procedure. Rules designed to keep the public and staff safe mean dentists that once saw twenty patients a day are now capable of seeing just five.”