Dentist urge long term clarity on PPE supplies in wake of NAO report
18 November 2020
The British Dental Association has welcomed the National Audit Office’s latest report on procurement during the COVID pandemic, and called for real clarity on the long term supply and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The NAO found in the period up to 31 July 2020 over 8,600 contracts related to government’s response to the pandemic were awarded, with a value of £18bn. While Ministers placed a stated emphasis on speed, deliverability and technical compliance the watchdog noted widespread concerns over transparency and lack of appropriate safeguards.
PPE availability was the number one brake on capacity for practices in England when they resumed face to face care in June, and is still cited by more than a third (35%) of practices UK-wide as having a high impact on their ability to increase patient access.
Dentists alerted the authorities to chronic shortages in early February, when many practices were set to ‘down drills’ as primary supply routes from China faced significant disruption. The report suggests a surge in procurement in response to COVID did not begin until March. Lack of PPE appears to have been a decisive factor in the move to a limited urgent care service during lockdown, which reduced patient numbers by nearly 98% by May. At the time there were even reports of centres using scuba gear in the absence of necessary masks.
The BDA has estimated 19 million NHS appointments have been missed in England since March, with many practices still dealing with the backlog of urgent need built up over lockdown, and facing ongoing restrictions that limit patient volumes.
Industry sources have estimated costs for an aerosol generating activity - routine care involving use of high-speed instruments – increased from £1.13 pre-COVID to £11.83 post-COVID, a more than ten-fold increase. While NHS practices have been granted access to the government’s NHS portal, private practices – which represent the majority of spending on dental care in the UK - do not, and have faced further hikes in costs since VAT was restored to PPE at the end of last month.
BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:
“Every health professional requires assurances that processes are now in place to ensure low cost, high quality kit makes it to the front line.
“PPE shortages have dogged dental services since the outset of the pandemic. The huge backlog we face is a testament to a failure to plan and procure equipment needed to protect patients and staff.
“Issues were identified with supplies in early February, but the message from government was keep calm and carry on. We are still living with the consequences.”