Reopening of dental practices in the UK and Ireland
LONDON, UK: While dental professionals across the world are hoping for the relaxation of lockdown restrictions and are anxious to reopen their dental practices, the UK government has not yet provided clear guidance on when dentists in the country can return to general practice and resume normal service. Similarly, the Irish Dental Association (IDA) is eagerly awaiting a response from its government and is deeply concerned over the impact of COVID-19 crisis on the dental profession in the country.*
As part of the lockdown, dental practices in the UK have been closed since 24 March. On 11 May, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a much-anticipated speech in which he briefed the nation on the easing of lockdown restrictions. The speech was met with criticism, since the proposed measures lacked clear guidance. Commenting on the prime minister’s announcement and its implications for dentistry, Chief Executive of the British Dental Association (BDA) Martin Woodrow stated that the existing advice for practices in the four UK countries still applies and that practices will continue to treat patients by providing advice and prescribing analgesics and antibiotics where appropriate. Additionally, dental care will continue to be triaged into different urgent care systems.
“The Office of the CDO [Chief Dental Officer] in England has reinforced the ‘no change yet’ message. Today they have stated: ‘the temporary cessation of routine dentistry addresses the safety of patients and of dental teams as well as supporting the public health measures required to slow community transmission of COVID-19’,” Woodrow wrote in a statement.
“However discussions are taking place across the UK about dentistry emerging from the lockdown. This morning BDA Chair Mick Armstrong and I met with Health Minister Jo Churchill and CDO Sara Hurley and discussed the general approach in England, both for NHS and private practices. On Thursday we have the first meeting of an NHS England group looking at this in more detail,” he continued.
Impact of COVID-19 on dental practices in Ireland
The IDA has previously criticised the government for its lack of support for the dental profession. During a meeting with Minister for Health Simon Harris earlier last week, the IDA voiced its concerns over the impact of the pandemic on the dental profession as a whole and requested financial assistance for dentists. Additionally, the IDA demanded that dentists are supplied with sufficient personal protective equipment and that patients are granted access to the Health Service Executive’s emergency dental centres.
“We made clear to the minister that the dental profession cannot deal with COVID-19 on its own and urgently needs assistance from the state, otherwise we will see the collapse of the two state dental schemes,” said Fintan Hourihan, CEO of the IDA, in a statement. “Oral health has a huge impact on a person’s overall health, and we cannot have a situation whereby numerous dental practices permanently close, meaning dental services are unattainable for many people,” he added.
A recent survey of 329 private dentists in Ireland reported that 86% of practices had had to lay off staff owing to the pandemic, and 87% of the respondents felt that they were unlikely or very unlikely to go back to pre-pandemic levels of service. Approximately 80% of the respondents said that practice closure posed a high or very high risk to the sustainability of their practices. Finally, 93% said that the crisis would lead to a sharp decrease in income and 67% stated that they could only maintain a viable dental practice for three months at most.