Scotland ‘faces dental health disaster’ as NHS practices stuck in lockdown

Covid-19 disarray threatens a dental health ‘disaster’.

Dentist Fiez Mughal (L) and Dental Nurse Johanna Bartha (R) carry out a procedure on a patient in one of the six surgery rooms at East Village dental practice on May 28, 2020 in London.. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Scotland’s dental profession is in a “state of disarray” as a result of confused government coronavirus guidelines, with NHS dentists warning of a “severe drop in the oral health” of Scots if they are not allowed to conduct routine treatment soon.

The country’s Chief Dental Officer, Tom Ferris, has been called on to take immediate action to prevent a widening of health inequalities as private dentists are allowed to practise, including offering fillings, while NHS dentists are prevented from doing so.

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The Scottish Dental Practice Owners group, which represents more than 400 dental practice owners, over 700 NHS surgeries and nearly three million patients, has written to Mr Ferris, as well as to First Minister

Nicola Sturgeon, finance minister Kate Forbes and public health minister Joe FitzPatrick, seeking urgent clarification on a developing two-tier system of dentistry in Scotland.

Dentists fear a collapse in practices as a result of the lockdown but SDPO chairman Dr Mohammed Samad, who practises in Glasgow’s East End, said the group had received no responses to any letters it has sent to the Scottish Government.

He said: “The dental profession has been put into a state of disarray by the Scottish Government and their lack of action in allowing NHS dental practices to open and treat their patients and has left millions of patients without access to their own dentist.

“Health Improvement Scotland have allowed private dental practices to open and given permission for aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) to be completed but NHS and mixed dental practices have been forbidden to do AGPs.

“There is no evidence to support this as many countries worldwide have been completing AGPs during the outbreak with no spread of Covid-19 in the public or the profession.” Dr Samad said that a government announcement last Friday had said NHS patients could now go to their dentist for “routine non-aerosol care” but that would mean no drilling or the use of compressed air, used in check-ups.

He added: “A thorough examination cannot be satisfactorily completed as cavities and many other dental problems are missed without this. And even if examinations were being completed, we cannot then follow up to provide any routine treatments.

“Information to the public is very confusing as there is no clarity and patients are not made aware of the severe limitations placed on NHS dental practices moving into phase three. The information and guidance from the CDO [Mr Ferris] is sparse and extremely unprofessional in the manner it is being released.

“Patients are receiving emails from local health boards stating that dental practices are ‘open’ but absolutely no clarity is given to the restrictions the dental profession is placed under by the Scottish Government.

“There has been no communication or consultation with the dental profession in respect to what is expected moving forward into each phase, and the profession is left to find out through social media and news outlets.

“Patients have been suffering from dental health issues needlessly for the last 12 weeks and there does not seem to be any sign of this abating. We have a duty of care but our hands have been tied and we are helpless in the services we can offer due to the restrictions still placed on the profession.”

He said if a practice has fitted masks and appropriate PPE, as set out by the Faculty of General Dental Practitioners, it should be able to provide AGP procedures to NHS patients.

Dr Samad said: “This has been a political decision with no evidence to support it. We sincerely hope that the Scottish Government stand up and take a serious look at the delicate position they have placed millions of NHS dental patients in and the restrictions they have placed on the practices. If something is not done soon there will a severe drop in the oral health in Scotland.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon said the SDPO had shown “another example of chaos and confusion” in the Scottish Government. “Scotland faces a dental health disaster if NHS services remain in lockdown for much longer,” she said. “It’s not right that there’s one set of rules for private dental work and those who can afford it and another set of rules for everyone else. Dentists and their patients need SNP ministers to get their act together.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said he had also written to Health Secretary Jeane Freeman looking for “clarity and action” on the dental sector.

The Scottish Government said: “There is no two-tiered system of dental health care in Scotland. NHS patients are able to receive care and treatment including aerosol-generating procedures through one of the 71 urgent dental care centres in Scotland.

“As part of phase three the Chief Dental Officer has commissioned an expert review of aerosol-generating procedures and will be writing to the profession shortly on how they might be introduced safely.”A message from the Editor:

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