HEALTH MATTERS: NHS dentists struggle to meet demand

NHS dentists’ fears of struggle to meet demand

By Angie Brown
BBC Scotland News

James Craig at work
James Craig said he could only wear the face fitted masks for short periods of time.

Dentists have warned the tight-fitted masks they must wear and other Covid precautions will limit how many NHS patients they can treat.

The range of NHS dental procedures available is due to return to pre-pandemic levels on 1 November.

But dentists want the public to be aware they are still operating under strict and demanding hygiene rules.

The Scottish government said fewer appointments would be available but insisted proper guidance was in place.

James Craig, a Scottish Dental Association committee member, said dentists were working in difficult and exhausting conditions, including having to wear tightly-fitted face respiratory masks that felt like breathing through a pillow.

He said: “They are uncomfortable and it’s hard to concentrate with them on.”

Covid protocols include having a window open while using drills and leaving a room fallow for one hour after any drilling stops.

Practices are also required to wash down all surfaces including floors between each patient

Mr Craig said he was worried these measures could make NHS dentistry unviable as it requires a “conveyor belt” system with large numbers of patients being seen for a short time.

Child at dentist

Dental practices were closed down for three months in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

When they reopened the menu of procedures for NHS dentists was cut from 600 to 80 and only temporary fillings in emergency situations were allowed.

Last week the Scottish government announced it was allowing all 600 procedures again from 1 November.

Mr Craig, who is also the owner of Currie Dental Care in Edinburgh, predicted that very little would change at his practice.

He said: “The conveyor belt of NHS dentistry means there is no chance to take the masks off in-between patients.

“The physical limitations and discomfort they cause mean it’s hard to do our job with all the gear on.

“My patients will have to wait for fillings because I will not be able to fit in any more than I’m already doing due to the restrictions we are working under.”

Mr Craig said he was worried that patient expectations would be unrealistically high.

“Now we have the public saying ‘The government said you can now do all NHS work’ but they haven’t given us any guidelines on how we do this under all the restrictions and we are having to deal with the fallout from the public when we say we cannot do it,” he said.

Gillian Leslie
Dr Gillian Leslie, who owns Bridge dental care in East Lothian’s Tranent, said NHS dentists had been “thrown under the bus”.

Dr Gillian Leslie, who owns Bridge Dental Care in East Lothian’s Tranent, said she was glad she would now be able to treat her NHS patients again.

But she said she felt the profession had been thrown “under the bus” by the announcement that NHS services would resume, without proper consultation.

She said: “We are getting deluged and getting abuse.

“It has put us in the firing line with the public as they have been told we are going back to normal but we know that is difficult when we still have to work under the restrictions.

“The restrictions mean we can’t carry on with the volume of patients we did before so we are unable to meet the demand.

A Scottish government insisted it had taken “a cautious, phased approach” and was now satisfied the necessary evidence and guidance was available to bring back the full range of care and treatment to NHS patients.

A spokesperson said: “We have been clear this is not business as usual, because of social distancing and infection control arrangements, dental practices have less appointments than normal each day.

“Dental practices will continue to be prioritising patients according to their oral health needs.”

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