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​Dentists: Patient expectations need managing as ‘full service’ resumes in Scotland

31 October 2020

The British Dental Association Scotland has warned that the reintroduction of the ‘full range’ of NHS treatments from Sunday 1 November will not signal a return to routine care, as a new poll reveals the limited capacity in the service.

According to new data from practices across Scotland:

  • Two-thirds (66%) are operating at less than a quarter of their pre-COVID capacity, with social distancing and new operating procedures leaving them capable of seeing a fraction of their former patient numbers.
  • 80% report less focus on routine NHS dentistry, with 53% report more focus on urgent cases, with 63% stating less focus on cosmetic dentistry.   
  • The greatest levels of concern with the Scottish Government’s performance has been on managing patient expectations, where 84% of practices expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s record.  This compares to 43% dissatisfied with access to PPE, 58% on financial support. 82% were dissatisfied with the government’s overall performance during the pandemic in relation to the service.

The BDA has welcomed positive signals that the Scottish Government is developing communications to provide a needed ‘reality-check’ to patients.  It has said clear and consistent messages from government and all NHS Boards are now essential to reduce patient frustration and prevent practices and their staff from being overwhelmed.

Dentist leaders have stressed that the pandemic has caused a huge backlog in unmet treatment built up over lockdown, and will require continued priority to be given to urgent cases, those midway through courses of treatment, and high-risk patients who have not been seen for several years.

While the BDA has recognised growing anxiety about an increasingly ‘two-tier’ system in Scotland it has questioned the timing of reintroduction of a full range of NHS dental services when COVID transmission rates are increasing significantly, and a huge swathe of the country is already facing Level 3-type restrictions.
David McColl, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee said:

“November will not mark a return to ‘normal’ dental services in Scotland.

“Since the return to a ‘full range’ of services was announced the phones at many practices have been ringing off the hook. Dentists may be able to offer a wider range of treatment but now face demand that simply cannot be met.

“The Scottish Government is making the right noises, but we need every Health Board onside to prevent practices from being overwhelmed. Dentistry remains a skeleton service and urgent and high-risk cases need to be at the front of the queue.  

"It is paramount that officials communicate this message effectively to the public. It now takes a nurse 42 minutes to thoroughly deep clean a surgery following a procedure. Rules designed to keep the public and staff safe mean dentists that once saw twenty patients a day are now capable of seeing just five."