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​Private dental care in England

21 May 2020

Across the pandemic period of strictly limited dental activity, members have raised questions about the application of the official advice to private dentistry. The easing of social distancing restrictions in England has focused attention further on when and how dental care will be expanded and again whether private practices can now provide face-to-face care for their patients.

All UK nations have adopted variations on an approach of restricting routine dentistry and providing most urgent and emergency care via urgent care systems. This reflected concerns in the early part of the pandemic about transmission of an unknown dangerous virus and the prevalence in particular of aerosol generating procedures in dentistry. The approach has also reflected wider government policies on social distancing, limitation on travel and restrictions on routine healthcare. NHS, private and mixed practices have all been asked to adhere to the same controls in support of wider public health directives.

The General Dental Council has been clear throughout that it has no powers to direct a professional either to offer treatment or to refuse to offer treatment. In England, the Care Quality Commission has confirmed that it cannot require providers of dental care services to close, unless it finds clear evidence of a breach of its regulations. In deciding, it would refer to prevailing guidance, including that from Public Health England, the Chief Dental Officer and the GDC. The CQC encourages dental providers to give proper consideration to communications from the CDO, whether their practice is NHS, private, or mixed.

The BDA has advised throughout this period as ever, all professionals should work in a way which ensures the health, safety and wellbeing of their patients and colleagues and should only provide treatment where it is safe for them to do so. The process of assessing whether it is safe will have to be determined by dentists and their team and involve carrying out the necessary risk assessments, having regard to relevant guidance issued by professional bodies, the NHS/government and other statutory bodies. The BDA has issued clear guidance on how risk assessments can be made by individual clinicians as recommended by the CQC and the GDC. Critically, dentists will also want to ensure that their indemnity provider is content with the scope of any care provided.

We are participating in NHS England and the Office of the CDO's work on how the provision of care will be expanded as England eases lockdown restrictions. We want to see widespread expansion of care as quickly as is safely possible and continue to argue the point that the approach to developing care should reflect the needs of both NHS and private dentistry. Private practices are in an unenviable position, wanting to treat their patients and begin to generate income, whilst at the same time needing to balance the public health considerations. This needs to be factored into the government approach.

Members can also access our updated advice on providing care at this time (login required).