Dentists have raised safety concerns after claiming they have been issued with face masks up to a decade out of date.
The Scottish Dental Practice Owners Group (SDPO) is not confident the masks are “fit for use” and fears NHS dental teams across Scotland have been given face coverings that may compromise patient and staff safety.
Dental practices across the country were closed in March amid the height of the pandemic and have been gradually reopening in recent weeks, but with restrictions on what procedures can be carried out in NHS practices.
Since Monday, dentists have been allowed to use drills or other equipment that causes a spray, known as aerosol generating procedures, provided they are wearing the correct personal protective equipment (PPE).
SDPO, which comprises 465 dental practice owners, said NHS practitioners were advised the Scottish Government would supply the necessary PPE through local health boards.
But it said when practices received their supplies, some found the FFP3 masks issued are “significantly beyond their expiry dates, in some cases by almost a decade”.
The SDPO said labels had been stuck over the original expiry dates with a new date of expiry, but those dates were also in the past and the most recent was 2019.
In a statement, SPDO said: “Preliminary inquiries to the mask manufacturer 3M suggest that they do not consider masks beyond their expiry date to be fit for use.
“Practitioners have serious concerns about the safety of masks of this age. How can masks this old be passed as safe when the manufacturer suggests otherwise?
“SDPO members are practice owners and must consider patient and staff safety.
“We lack confidence that the masks issued to dental practice staff are fit for use, and we are very concerned that NHS dental teams across Scotland have been issued with masks that may compromise patient and staff safety.”
The FFP3 masks can filter small particles, including viruses, from the air and need to be fitted to members of staff.
The organisation also said dental staff have only been fit-tested for one or two types of mask, and claimed there seems to be a lack of contingency planning for staff who fail the fit tests for the models being used.
SPDO said a broader range of masks and other solutions should be available to ensure no NHS dental staff face being unable to return to work because they do not have adequate PPE.
It said the provision of PPE past its expiry date is a serious concern for the providers of NHS dentistry and called for an urgent review of the situation.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Revalidating stock and extending the shelf-life of masks is standard practice to maintain pandemic stock levels and this was used in relation to FFP3 respirator stocks as announced in March.
“Any PPE which has been issued to NHS boards for onward distribution to dental practices and may have passed its original expiry date has been re-tested to ensure it remains safe to use.
“Such testing has been approved and reviewed by the Health and Safety Executive and to standards relevant to the PPE being tested.
“Critically, this PPE – supplied free of charge by our NHS – enables dentists to carry out urgent and emergency care while ensuring the safety of patients, dentists and all dental staff.
“Each board has a proactive programme of fit-testing for FFP3 masks under way with each practice requiring a fit test for a dentist and dental nurse; this is a rolling programme of work, there are around 1000 dental practices in Scotland.”