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How will the new lockdown affect dentistry?

Blog Author Eddie Crouch

Blog Date 07/01/2021

​Eddie Crouch calls on dentists to share your experiences of the new lockdown and help us make a compelling case to government.


It’s déjà vu all over again as a national lockdown returns.


Yes, dentistry remains open and safe, but colleagues now find themselves facing both familiar problems and new challenges, again without the necessary support from government.


Frustrated dentists are already getting in touch with questions on key worker status, access to the vaccine, patient backlogs and concerns about trying to work within the constraints of unrealistic NHS targets.


On 14 January we have helped secure a debate in parliament on support for dentistry (or the lack thereof). With this new lockdown upon us, we hope you will do your bit, and help get these issues firmly on the agenda.


Time to abandon NHS Targets

New Year’s Day saw activity targets imposed on NHS practices across England.


“Write to your MP and call on them to pressure the government to abandon these targets.”

Many colleagues now face steep financial penalties as they attempt to hit 45% of their pre-pandemic NHS activity targets under lockdown.


Even before current restrictions this was the wrong move at the wrong time - the policy is now entirely untenable.


These targets are forcing dentists to prioritise routine check-ups over a time-consuming backlog of urgent cases. With patients now unwilling to attend, practices are being set up to fail.


We have written to Matt Hancock urging him to abandon these targets with immediate effect.


Parliament was not consulted before these changes were made so we need our members to ensure their MPs hold Ministers to account. If you haven’t done so already, please write to your MP and call on them to pressure the government to abandon these targets.


Key worker status is essential

Even before the current lockdown landed, colleagues were starting to report difficulties created by official ambiguity over ‘key worker’ status. Some were once again unable to secure childcare, others turned away when they sought the COVID vaccine.


Whether its access to schools or securing the jab, we don't believe any dentists should take no for an answer.


On childcare there are official statements from the Chief Dental Officers to reference. On the vaccine NHS England has confirmed that dentists and their teams, both in the NHS and in the private sector, are frontline health and social care staff. We are categorised in the ‘priority group two’ - a cohort the Prime Minister has only just pledged will be vaccinated by mid-February.


“This government has a responsibility to be crystal clear in its guidance on schools and vaccines.”

Yet with clarity still in short supply, this government has a responsibility to be crystal clear in its guidance to staff in schools and the vaccine programme.


We are also seeing real barriers facing colleagues volunteering to be vaccinators.


Dentists are ready and willing to be part of the national effort. However volunteers are effectively being asked to deliver vaccines in their spare time. Again this looks unfeasible for dentists who will be under intense pressure chasing targets.


We need ongoing support for all

Since June colleagues in England have seen their working lives transformed, reduced capacity, and reluctance among some patients to attend. This new lockdown has now upped the ante.


In recent days both NHS and private colleagues have alerted us to a marked rise in cancelled appointments and ‘did not attends’, and a spike in staff shortages due to sickness, self-isolation, or problems accessing childcare.


The furlough scheme and government loans are still with us, but wider support is still either absent or uneven, and the risk remains that dedicated practices will go to the wall.


We are already gathering intelligence on both public opinion and the situation at the coal face. But we need members to set out their cases directly to their MPs.


For colleagues working in NHS, private or mixed practice the coming debate on 14 January is your chance. Whether it’s commitments on free point of care testing, addressing the status of VAT on PPE, or expanding the business rates holiday make sure your voice is heard.


Commitment on prevention is crucial

Since last March, it’s seemed inevitable that oral health inequalities will increase. Recent events will only add to this as access drops, public health programmes remain on ice, and families return to sugar-laden lockdown diets.


Official figures suggest less than half the children who attended an NHS dentist in England in 2019, made it to an appointment in 2020. We are storing up problems for the future, as dental decay goes unchecked and children may end up requiring a GA to have rotten teeth removed.


Just after Christmas the government offered some hope in announcing the abolition of 'Buy One Get One Free' offers and displays of unhealthy snacks at supermarket checkouts.


Dentists see the damage sugary food does to oral health every day, and we’ve long campaigned for change here. But the bigger picture is that - despite the fact COVID is dominating everything - we are now seeing some evidence that government is willing to build on commitments to the prevention agenda.


It’s why we won’t let up ensuring government take forward pledges to expand supervised brushing in early years’ settings, a policy that its own modelling shows would pay for itself through lower treatment costs. Prevention needs to be more than a buzzword. More than ever we now need real support for practices, wedded to real commitment to public health programmes.


For all this to happen, we need to ensure dentistry is thrown a lifeline. Tell you MP about the challenges you are facing in your practice and together we can make a stronger case to government.


Eddie Crouch

Eddie Crouch
BDA Chair