POLICE are investigating whether a young woman died because of care she received at a dental clinic which allegedly flouted safety standards, sparking a major public health alert.
Around 22,000 patients treated at the clinic are being urged to come forward for tests for blood-borne viruses including HIV and hepatitis B and C.
Dentist Desmond D’Mello has been suspended pending a full investigation, amid claims he kept medical equipment in the staff toilet and failed to wash his hands and change his gloves between patients.
Health chiefs have launched a public appeal to trace every patient who has been treated by Mr D’Mello during his 32-year career. It is believed to be the biggest recall in British history.
Mr D’Mello, who ran the Daybrook Dental Practice in Gedling, Nottinghamshire, was suspended in June after a whistleblower secretly filmed him allegedly breaching clinical standards. Police said they were investigating possible links between the death of a 23-year-old woman in August 2013, and the treatment she received at the clinic earlier that month.
A police spokeswoman said: “Detectives are now working to establish if there are any links between the death and the dental treatment she received. This is all being undertaken in close liaison with the NHS.”
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
She said an investigation into the death of another woman, 29, who died in August 2013, found “no evidence” of any links between her treatment and death.
Police stressed their investigation is on behalf of the local coroner and not technically a criminal inquiry.
Within an hour of the recall’s announcement, worried patients had begun queuing outside an emergency walk-in clinic set up for them.
NHS England said Mr D’Mello is not infected with any of the viruses himself. But they said his alleged failure to follow clinical standards may have put his patients at “low risk” of infection.
Dr Doug Black, medical director for NHS England in Nottinghamshire, said: “Our investigation demonstrates that acceptable infection control standards do not appear to have been followed by Mr D’Mello whilst he was treating patients at the former Daybrook Dental Practice.
“Immediate actions were taken to protect current patients once these apparent lapses were identified. However, this alleged drop in clinical standards may have put people at a low risk of infection from hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
“Therefore, as a precautionary measure, we are advising all patients who have seen Mr D’Mello to seek further advice on what action they may need to take.”
He added: “We are extremely sorry for the undoubted worry and concern people may feel on hearing this news. I would like to stress again that the risk is low but would encourage anyone affected to contact the advice line.”
There are fears that breaches of safety standards at the clinic could date back decades.
Care Quality Commission inspectors made a surprise visit to the clinic in July and found it did not meet cleanliness and infection control standards.
The report said: “We observed the staff toilet and the room next to the toilet were being used as storerooms for equipment. This posed a risk of these items coming into contact with body fluids which may be contaminated. This risk had not been identified by staff at the dental surgery and no action had been taken to minimise it.”
The visit followed concerns raised the previous month by an unnamed whistleblower who used a hidden camera to film Mr D’Mello. The footage allegedly showed “multiple failures in cross-infection control standards”. But inspectors who visited the clinic just six months before, in November last year, gave it a clean bill of health.
Mr D’Mello has been suspended for 18 months pending a full investigation. Health officials warn they do not have up-to-date information for all patients.
Dr Black said: “We are therefore making this public appeal through the media to recommend that, as a precautionary measure, all patients who may have received dental treatment from Mr D’Mello seek advice on what action they need to take.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS