The British Dental Association (BDA) has told the Assembly Committee for Health that the future of dental services in Northern Ireland are now hanging in the balance.
In oral evidence today the BDA explained that dental practices are set to resume face-to-face care later this month at a fraction of their pre-pandemic capacity, limited by PPE costs and shortages, and requirements to meet strict social distancing and decontamination guidelines.
NI dental leaders have said the combination of lower patient numbers and higher costs will have a devastating impact on high street services. The BDA has warned the very system on which Health Service dentistry operates - the item of service - which sees dentists remunerated on the basis of treatments delivered, will be unable to cope with an expected collapse in patient numbers unless the government is willing to offer long term support or change the current model.
The Department of Health has intimated existing support packages could be wound down after August, and any future support will have to be ‘subject to the confines of the dental budget’.
Dentists will be able to provide non-urgent care to the public from 29 June, with aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) using high-speed instruments scheduled to start from 20 July. A majority of the practices that have reopened in England are operating at less than a quarter of their pre-COVID capacity.
Richard Graham, Chair of the BDA’s Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee said:
“The future of dental services in Northern Ireland now hangs in the balance.
“The very system on which health service dentistry operates now risks decimating the sector. Without adequate ongoing support from government, it is frankly impossible to sustain a model based on activity when activity has fallen through the floor.
“Sadly the message so far from government is on ‘budget constraints’. At a time of great uncertainty and anxiety, we call on the Department to be doing whatever it takes to get the service through this crisis intact. In addition, clarity on last week’s commitment to provide PPE support is needed urgently.
“Practices our communities depend on now face an avoidable catastrophe. Dental services need to be prioritised in the Rebuilding of HSC Services. Dentists need support, and a conversation must start on finding a new way to deliver care in the ‘new normal' to restore confidence in the sector.”