Covid-19 backlog will cause 'real problems' for dentists, warns Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh

The backlog of treatments caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will cause ‘real problems’ for the dental services industry, the Royal College of Surgeons has warned.

Dentist Fiez Mugha and Dental Nurse Johanna Bartha carry out a procedure on a patient. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

While some treatments and urgent care have continued during the pandemic, full NHS treatments have not been allowed.

These will restart from November 1, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick announced on Monday.

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But practices will need to limit the number of patients they see due to increased cleaning regimes, and Phil Taylor, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, has warned that this will not mean a return to normal.

The Scottish public will not be easily able to access a dentist for regular treatment in the foreseeable future, he said.

"The news that dental practices can resume wider NHS services from 1 November is a positive step in the right direction, however the announcement does not mean practices will be able to return to normal,” said Professor Taylor.

“The ability to resume NHS services means practices will be able to offer more treatment options but they will not be able to see anywhere near the same number of patients as they did before lockdown due to ongoing restrictions on numbers as a result of required fallow periods and enhanced cleaning.

“This continues to pose real problems and means practices will still have huge backlogs to work through. The Scottish public will not be easily able to access their dentist for regular treatment for the foreseeable future.”

Professor Taylor added that there is a ‘lack of meaningful support’ for dentistry in Scotland.

"Lifting the restrictions on the use of aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) in NHS treatment does not mean a return to normal for patients, or that practices will be out of financial difficulty,” he said.

Professor Taylor cited a recent study by business finance specialists Rangewell which found that some independent dental practices in the UK spent up to £10,000 a month in lockdown to keep the business going while it was obliged to remain closed.

Nic Connor, Rangewell’s head of research, also called on the UK and devolved governments to take urgent action to support independent healthcare providers, including dentists, pharmacies and opticians.

Professor Taylor said: “Our practices are in urgent need of support from the Scottish Government if they are to survive until restrictions are relaxed enough that they can begin to see higher numbers of patients.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the return on November 1 will not be “business as usual” as there will be fewer appointments each day.

“Our commitment as a Government is for patients to receive NHS care and treatment, and it is our intention to ensure that NHS dental services emerge well placed to care for the oral health of the population,” they said.

“Which is why we continue to support NHS dental services with an unprecedented package of financial support measures. This is sustained support and provides a top-up for dental incomes to 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels, as well as additional funding support for dental practices. As part of the next phase of remobilisation the intention is to raise the top-up, further confirmation of this Government’s commitment to NHS dental services.”

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