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Wales: Patient numbers to fall off a cliff as COVID hits service already in crisis

2 July 2020
British Dental Association (BDA) Wales has warned the Welsh Parliament's Health, Social Care and Sport Committee that without fundamental ongoing reform, dental services in Wales could be fatally compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In oral evidence this morning Welsh dental leaders underlined the risk to practices getting ready to resume routine care, but at a fraction of their former capacity while facing significantly higher costs. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) remains in short supply, and costs to deliver a single course of treatment have increased by up to 6000%. 

Dentists stressed the impact of these overheads on private dentistry, that has been left out on a limb by the Welsh Government in terms of business support, warning their patients have literally nowhere to go if these practices fail. The majority of practices are 'mixed', combining private and NHS work, and therefore will struggle despite support for the NHS side of their business. 

Practices in England have resumed routine care on 8 June, but with the overwhelming majority running at less than a quarter of their pre-pandemic capacity. Practices in Wales had remained open during the pandemic and were able to provide a limited menu of emergency treatment.

Whilst the suspension of the discredited ‘Units of Dental Activity’ model has been welcomed, the BDA is calling for further work to replace the failed system that had demoralised the workforce and fuelled access problems in communities across Wales. 

Last year the BDA found only one in 6 practices (55 out of 355 or 15.5%) across Wales were able to offer appointments to new adult NHS patients, with only 27% (96) practices taking on new child NHS patients.

The Committee has previously recommended jettisoning the current contract and development of a new prevention-focused model for care.

Tom Bysouth, Chair of the British Dental Association Welsh General Dental Practice Committee said:

"Dentistry in Wales was in crisis before this pandemic. Now COVID-19 has demolished the flawed foundations the service was built on.

"For over a decade we have worked with a failed NHS contract that valued only activity, activity that is now impossible to deliver. 

"Hundreds of thousands of Welsh citizens have struggled to secure access to dentistry. Now with such limited capacity for the foreseeable future, patient numbers across all aspects of dentistry are set to fall off a cliff.

"Practices cannot survive the combination of higher costs and fewer patients without help. Private dentistry has been left to fend for itself, while many mixed and NHS providers are now operating at a loss. This is not a sustainable situation. 

"Ministers have pledged a recovery year for dentistry. It's a positive move, but now is the time to embrace much-needed reform, so we can keep delivering better oral health for Wales."