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​Dentists: Skeleton dental service going back to work at a fraction of pre-COVID-19 capacity

05 June 2020

There will be no return to ‘business as usual’ for dentistry as a little over a third (36%) of England’s practices will be reopening on Monday 8 June, at a fraction of their pre-pandemic capacity, a new poll for the British Dental Association (BDA) shows.

Evidence gathered from over 2000 practices in England suggests:

  • The majority (over 60%) of dental practices estimate they will be able to treat less than a quarter of the patient numbers they saw pre-COVID-19

  • Barely 15% are in a position to offer a full range of treatment, with the capacity to offer aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs), using high-speed instruments, that constitute the majority of activity

  • Key drivers include PPE shortages, with only 1/3 of practices having PPE to hand to provide face-to-face care, and only 25% reporting they have been fit tested to use them.

  • Dentists have also indicated other barriers with a high impact on their plans for reopening, including emerging from cash flow problems (78%), difficulties getting practices ready for social distancing (63%), and access to childcare (40%) - where failure to offer necessary clarity on their key worker status has seen children turned away from schools and nurseries.
While over 60% of practices expect to reopen to some level by the end of June, major constraints will remain on the service. 

Decontamination and social distancing policies mean longer treatment slots, with surgeries sometimes sitting fallow between patients – leaving many practices unable to maintain their financial viability in the face of fewer patients and higher costs.

The BDA has said these grim findings underline the need for support from government. It has called for immediate clarification on key worker status for dental team members, and action on PPE supplies.

Dental practices are among the only businesses on the high street still paying business rates, with even bookmakers receiving rates relief. 

Sector leaders have also called for vital support like the furlough scheme – that 80% of practices have made use of – not to be pulled away prematurely when levels of clinical activity remain so low. 

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said:

“Anyone expecting dentistry to magically return on Monday will find only a skeleton service. 

“Those practices reopening now face fewer patients and higher costs and will struggle to meet demand. 

“Dentists returning to work still lack the support offered to our neighbours on the high street, and even clarity on key worker status when it comes to childcare.

“Ministers must change tack if dentistry is going to survive the new normal.”