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​'GP at Hand' style apps offer no quick fix to NHS access crisis

24 September 2019 


The BDA has expressed scepticism over the role of tele consultations in dentistry, following the launch of the new app Tooth Fairy.


The BDA recognises the potential for this technology in areas including triaging cases for NHS 111, but does not see how it is possible to conduct a full and thorough examination remotely on the basis of current technology.


Dentist leaders have expressed discomfort over the facility to provide 'prescriptions on demand', potentially for painkillers and antibiotics without the benefit of a full diagnosis. Antibiotics do not cure toothache, and unnecessary prescriptions are contributing to the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance.


They have called on Ministers to not rush to endorse tele consultations – previously seen with controversial apps such as GP at Hand - without a full evaluation of their effectiveness and implications on patient safety.


As the Health and Social Care Committee prepares to hold an enquiry into NHS dental services, the BDA has also said such technology offers little hope of meaningfully addressing a deteriorating access situation.


Just last week patients in Penzance, Cornwall were left with options of booking appointments in August 2020, or facing up to 120 mile round trips for access following recruitment problems at local practices. In June a spate of closures left Portsmouth - the most densely populated metropolitan area in England - with no NHS practices taking on new patients, and families facing ferry rides to secure NHS care.


The latest NHS Dental Statistics showed the lowest number of patients attending an NHS dentist in a decade, with just 50.2 per cent of adults seeing a dentist in the last two years - a drop from 52.5 per cent less than a year ago. 


British Dental Association Chair Mick Armstrong said:


"It's wishful thinking to imagine any app offers a quick fix for millions of patients struggling to secure an NHS dental appointment.


"When you're in the chair your dentist can use a mirror to see the back of your mouth, will touch and probe teeth and gums, and can offer x-rays to identify unseen problems. It is difficult see how a thorough examination could ever be replicated over a smartphone.


"Yes, technology is having a transformative impact on health services, but it should not be a route for prescriptions on demand, potentially without a full diagnosis.


"Government must not make the same mistake it did with GP at Hand. Patient safety must come first, and we need to see a robust evaluation before we hear a ringing endorsement from Ministers."


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