Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: Both 'short-term and long-term battle' being fought, says dental chief

A dentist tends to a patient at Silveroaks Dental Surgery as it opens for non aerosol generating assessments in Milton Keynes Image copyright Reuters

NI dentists are "fighting a short-term and a long-term battle" as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the acting chief dental officer has said.

Oral health groups created at the start of 2020 for children and older people will be brought back as quickly as possible, Michael Donaldson told told Stormont's health committee.

It was a question of how quickly the groups could be revived, he added.

A "colossal" amount of protective kit needed to be distributed, he said.

Dentists in Northern Ireland have been able to provide non-urgent care to the public since 29 June, according to the British Dental Association (BDA).

They are expecting to be allowed to carry out AGPs - including provision of fillings - from 20 July.

30 articulated lorries of PPE

A delivery of level-one Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - required for non-aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) - announced by the health minister last week, should be completed next week, said Mr Donaldson.

Dentists had asked the Business Services Organisation if level two PPE would be available at the same time, he added.

He said that supply could not be provided without "possibly affecting the ability to provide to trusts and the wider health service".

But, he said, dental practices usually source their own PPE and work with smaller providers than the BSO to secure that.

And, he said, the financial support provided should mean adequate funding to allow Level-two PPE to be purchased.

Dentists usually pay for their own PPE, but the health minister has announced that 3m items of PPE would be provided free of charge.

Mr Donaldson said the amount of PPE to be distributed to dentists was "colossal" - requiring 30 articulated lorries and more than 700 pallets to be transported.

The Business Services Organisation is working with a distribution company to make delivery happen from next week, but he said it was "very challenging".

38,000 patients seen each week

The committee heard that figures suggest about 11,000 patients were treated last week, as dentists move through their phased return to full routine care provision.

Mr Donaldson said the delivery of PPE next week should enable an estimated 38,000 patients to be seen each week, which was a "very significant advance" on the 4,000 emergency patients seen weekly during the pandemic.

He said the restriction of dentistry during the pandemic had had a detrimental impact on the population's dental health.

He added that an increase in patients who are able to be seen would help address levels of dental disease, and that the service was "keeping on top" of urgent cases.

Most dental practices in Northern Ireland have at least some element of NHS-based dental care provision.

Image caption Michael Donaldson was speaking to the NI Assembly Health Committee

Asked about the one-hour fallow period between patients after an AGP, Michael Donaldson said: "It is not normal procedure that individuals would seek to drill underneath the work done by expert committees - that's why we have them".

Alliance MLA for South Belfast, Paula Bradshaw, asked where the evidence was for the requirement for the fallow time between AGPs.

Mr Donaldson said the advice had come from Public Health England (PHE), and that he had not reviewed the evidence on which PHE had come to that position.

He said NI had altered the approach to what dental practitioners could do, so it had been tweaked for the local situation.

"Nobody in the UK at this time challenges the AGP advice from PHE, but that report is under review."

The committee's chairman Colm Gildernew said that was "extremely worrying".

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