Dental services ‘harmed by unreliable PPE supplies’

The Scottish Dental Practice Owners Group says efforts to work through a backlog of treatment has been hampered by PPE issues.

Dental services ‘harmed by unreliable PPE supplies’ Getty Images

Dentists have warned “sporadic and unreliable” supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) are harming the services they provide to the public.

The Scottish Dental Practice Owners Group (SDPO) said efforts to work through a “huge backlog” of treatment that has developed since services were closed in March are being hampered by poor supplies of PPE.

A full range of NHS dental services resumed on November 1 after being halted earlier in the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, though some services including urgent care were able to restart earlier.

The SDPO said while public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said the necessary PPE would be provided to dental practices, supply problems are “harming the service to the public” and making it difficult for dentists to plan ahead.

It said: “For procedures involving drills or scalers (aerosol generating procedures – AGPs) dental staff must wear FFP3 face masks.

“Staff are individually fitted for a suitable model of mask and must wear this to ensure their safety.

“Many staff have not yet been successfully fitted for an FFP3 mask and so are unable to do AGPs.

“To make matters worse, some models of mask are often out of stock so staff fitted for these masks are unable to do AGPs.”

The group added: “The supply of PPE to practices is sporadic and unreliable.

“Low numbers of FFP3 masks are received and as stock runs down there is no clarity about when the next delivery will arrive.

“This makes it impossible to plan appointment diaries because dentists don’t know from week to week if they will have the necessary PPE to enable them to work safely.”

The SDPO, which comprises 465 dental practice owners, said that given the “unreliable supply chain”, some dentists feel it might be better if appropriate funds were made available to enable practices to secure their own PPE.

The group said: “The shutdown of NHS dentistry since March has harmed patient care and further weakened the financial viability of NHS dental practice.

“The chief dental officer must urgently address these problems to protect this important public service.”

The SDPO also raised concerns about NHS dental fees set by the Scottish Government, which it said have barely increased over the last decade despite substantial increases in practice operating costs.

It said NHS fees are now “so uneconomically low” they have a detrimental effect on all aspects of the service.

The group said the “precarious position of Scotland’s NHS dental sector has been exacerbated by the pandemic” and warned NHS dental practices may close or be forced to withdraw from the health service to survive.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

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